The race for governor is in play this general election, something that often isn't the case in Maryland. With rare exception, the governor's race has been too often decided in the Democratic primary.
This year, however, there appears to be a measure of dissatisfaction with incumbents, a label that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Anthony Brown has worn proudly after eight years as the lieutenant governor for the Martin O'Malley administration.
Much was accomplished in O'Malley's two terms and, armed with an accommodating legislature, the governor furthered Democratic ideals by abolishing the death penalty, approving same-sex marriage and emphasizing higher education among other things.
At the same time, the O'Malley-Brown administration has not been sufficiently friendly to businesses, with enough regulations, tax challenges and plain bureaucratic red tape to make the state one of the least inviting in the nation. Brown says he will improve on that, going as far as saying that he would make Maryland the No. 1 business-friendly state in the country.
And while we believe Brown will make this a goal, we must point out that Brown's highest-profile job over the last eight years — to oversee the rollout of the state's health care exchange — was an unqualified failure and financial disaster.
These last two points are not lost on Brown's opponent, Republican Larry Hogan, who has hammered away at the state's tax rate and current business climate. He espouses audits on state agencies to make sure money is being spent properly, even to say that he's not against spending more money in certain areas if the audits show they are necessary.
And despite Brown's attempts to paint Hogan as an extremist, Hogan is driven not to be a culture warrior but to find savings in the state budget and, like Brown, improve the state's business climate. Brown's campaign ads that imply Hogan would change abortion laws, severely hamper school construction dollars, or worse, allow automatic weapons in school yards and shopping carts, are deceitful.
That's the troubling part of Brown's message. Too much of his campaign has been spent on demonizing Hogan and not enough debating the pocketbook issues. Jobs and pinched spending, in part blamed on higher taxes and user fees, are more top of mind to the general public.
Hogan, on the other hand, has kept his message simple. His well-organized campaign, a comparatively positive one, has resonated with those who feel Maryland has gone too far to the left of center. His voice alone has helped to focus the debate on the issues. And his argument that Maryland needs greater political balance makes sense.
Ultimately for these reasons, we narrowly offer Larry Hogan our endorsement. We would be the first to acknowledge that Hogan lacks political experience and that he has shown less interest in some social issues, giving us some reservations about his governorship. But we see a greater opportunity for bipartisan involvement under a Hogan administration and feel that increased taxes or user fees will not come as automatically as they have under the current O'Malley-Brown administration.
Had Ken Ulman, current Howard County Executive, been at the top of the ticket and not serving as Brown's running mate, we might not have endorsed Hogan. Ulman's proven ability to run a government could have swayed us to support the Democratic candidate. But alas, he is not.
As for the hot-button social issues, we'll have to trust Hogan that he will be true to his word. But even if he's not, the inevitable Democratically controlled legislature will keep him in check, just as we expect Hogan will do of the legislature. That's why we give Hogan our endorsement.