Gov. Larry Hogan and top aides took the capital to Baltimore County on Monday, holding a “regional cabinet meeting” and then fanning out to make dozens of stops across the county.
The governor said the day was intended to forge connections with county residents, but political analysts say it also served as a way to keep Hogan’s name in front of an important voting bloc.
Baltimore County is expected to be key to the Republican governor’s re-election hopes. Though more county residents are registered as Democrats than Republicans, Hogan picked up more votes in Baltimore County than anywhere else when he won in 2014.
“Baltimore County is going to be ground zero battleground for the governor’s race, so an event like this is really important. In many ways it was a campaign event,” said John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County who observed the cabinet meeting at the college’s Essex campus.
“What it was designed to do was show the people of Baltimore County: ‘These are the things I’ve done for you.’ ”
At the meeting, Hogan spoke of his administration’s work on attracting jobs, funding schools and planning highway improvements in the county. And he took a few jabs at one of his political rivals.
The governor didn’t mention Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz by name, but told the crowd “your county executive” had failed by not air-conditioning schools fast enough, supporting a “road kill” transportation law and not paying to treat midges on the Back River.
Hogan said that “after years of standing in the way,” Kamenetz announced support for building a replacement for Dulaney High School in Timonium, which school families had long sought.
“I’m not sure if he saw the light or felt the heat,” Hogan said.
Kamenetz is running to become the Democratic nominee to face Hogan in November. He was not invited to attend the governor’s Monday events, said his spokeswoman, Ellen Kobler.
Kobler said the county executive has been working to deal with school overcrowding and “the decision to build a new Dulaney High School was based on a systemic analysis of school construction needs in the context of rising enrollment.”
Regardless of the disagreements between the governor and executive, members of the Dulaney community were happy to be getting a new building — and to host Hogan for a tour.
“He got to see the successes and some of the struggles,” said Jennifer Tarr, a parent who has lobbied for years for a new school.
At other points in the day, Hogan greeted customers at Boulevard Diner in Dundalk, visited Franklin Square Hospital Center in Rosedale and learned about the history of the old Pikesville National Guard Armory and its potential future uses.
Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Hogan will need to win the suburban counties around Baltimore — in addition to Republican strongholds in rural areas — to win re-election.
“He’s got to make sure those folks in Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore and Harford counties still break for him,” Eberly said.
Eberly noted that the last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., sometimes was criticized for not doing enough for Baltimore County, even though he was raised in Arbutus. Ehrlich served one term, failing to win re-election in 2006 and losing a bid to return to the governor’s mansion in 2010.
“Hogan knows he can’t take that for granted,” Eberly said.
At the cabinet meeting, officials gave updates on the opioid crisis, workforce training, transportation and housing programs. They also gave awards to community leaders, state employees, public safety workers and the state championship boys soccer team from Eastern Technical High School.
Another of Hogan’s potential gubernatorial rivals, Democratic candidate Ben Jealous, was not impressed with the Baltimore County appearance, suggesting the governor should spend a day in Baltimore City instead.
“Larry Hogan continues to make it crystal clear Baltimore City will never be anything more to him than a place to go to hold photo ops,” Jealous said in a statement.
Hogan’s spokeswoman, Amelia Chasse, responded in a statement, saying “Governor Hogan has been deeply committed to supporting and improving Baltimore City from day one.” She cited support for school funding, efforts to demolish vacant buildings and his closure of the old state-run city jail.
Hogan made previous all-day visits with his cabinet to Washington County and Carroll County. Another is in the works for Southern Maryland.
“People really seem to appreciate it,” Hogan said. “You get the chance to talk to the entire state government and to get … problems solved.”