Hogan pledges culture of 'tolerance and mutual respect' in Annapolis

Republican takes over after eight years of Democrat Martin O'Malley.

Republican Larry Hogan pledged to foster a culture of "tolerance and mutual respect" in Annapolis as he took the oath of office Wednesday to become Maryland's 62nd governor.

Elected on a promise to "Change Maryland," Hogan struck a tone of moderation in his inaugural address from the steps of the State House as a gentle snow fell.

"To those who would divide us, or drive us to the extremes of either political party, I remind you that Maryland has been called 'a state of middle temperament,'" he said. "Our politics need that middle temperament as well."

Hogan, 58, offered no policy specifics, instead focusing on the spirit of cooperation he said he wants to create. Democrats hold large majorities in the legislature.

The new governor has said he will lay out his budget plans at a news conference Thursday. His calls for cooperation could be tested as he makes the spending cuts needed to eliminate a $750 million shortfall and deliver on his promise of a tax cut.

His calls to bridge the state's political divide were tempered by a few partisan lines that drew rousing applause from the crowd of more than 1,600.

Hogan, a businessman from Anne Arundel County, promised to "get the state government off our backs and out of our pockets." And he declared, "Starting today, let me say loudly and clearly, Maryland is open for business."

He is just the second Republican in over four decades to assume Maryland's highest office. He succeeds Democrat Martin O'Malley, who was term-limited.

As he stepped to the podium amid snowflakes, Hogan quipped, "They said it would be a cold day in hell before we elected a Republican governor."

Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, administered the oath of office — becoming the first woman in Maryland's history to do so.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie introduced Hogan, saying he likes him because he sticks to his principles. "He's blunt and he's direct, and he says what he believes."

Christie, who as an early Hogan backer was instrumental in helping raise cash through the Republican Governors Association, echoed Hogan's call for bipartisanship. "I don't believe that compromise and consensus are dirty words," he told the crowd.

Hogan, who had not previously held elected office, officially became governor when he took the oath required in the state Constitution in the Maryland Senate chamber. The ceremony was repeated outside the State House before the larger audience.

"Too often, we see wedge politics and petty rhetoric used to belittle adversaries and inflame partisan divisions," Hogan said. "It is only when the partisan shouting stops that we can hear each other's voices and concerns."

Boyd Rutherford, who like Hogan served in the Cabinet of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was sworn in as lieutenant governor. Rutherford, a 57-year-old attorney, struck the same tone, concluding his speech by saying, "Far more unites us than divides us."

The incoming administration's pledge to judge ideas on their merit drew praise from the largest union of state workers, which strongly backed Democrat Anthony G. Brown in his race against Hogan.

"State and university employees take the governor at his word," said Jeff Pittman, spokesman for AFSCME Maryland. He said Hogan aides have met with the group, while Ehrlich's administration had refused.

"This is a positive development and the path forward to a positive relationship," Pittman said.

Democratic lawmakers were cautiously receptive to Hogan's message.

"I think the spirit of bipartisanship was exactly the right tone," said Sen. James C. Rosapepe of Prince George's County. But the veteran lawmaker was anxious to see what the governor's anticipated spending cuts will mean. "We'll see whether he walks the walk that he talked today," Rosapepe said.

Hogan rode a wave of voter discontent with the O'Malley administration's tax and spending policies to an upset victory over Brown, whose attempt to portray his rival as an extreme conservative backfired.

While Hogan has pledged not to try to roll back Maryland's relatively liberal social policies, he has promised fundamental changes in the state's fiscal approach, including spending reductions and tax cuts. Throughout his campaign, he contended a dramatic shift was needed to improve Maryland's business climate and to halt what he said was an exodus of companies and residents from the state.

In his speech, Hogan promised to reinvigorate Maryland, run the government more efficiently, and "transform Maryland into a place where businesses can flourish and create more jobs and more opportunities for our citizens." He called for fairness and balance for "Maryland's hard-working and beleaguered taxpayers."

As Hogan finished speaking, retiree Vernon Gaussfrom Harford County shouted above the applause, "Let the work begin!"

O'Malley and Brown sat on the stage with other dignitaries, including Ehrlich and former Democratic Govs. Marvin Mandel and Harry R. Hughes. When O'Malley took over from Ehrlich after defeating him in 2006, Ehrlich sat in the front row of the audience.

"He wouldn't even sit on the stage," O'Malley's wife, Judge Catherine Curran O'Malley, recalled Wednesday as the couple left the State House. Her husband was asked whether he minded sitting though Hogan's speech, with its many implicit criticisms of the state's direction under his leadership. "Not at all," O'Malley said, smiling.

After the ceremony, Brown called it "a big day for Maryland and for Governor Hogan and his family, and I wish him much success." He declined for now to say what his plans are.

Republicans were exuberant.

Sen. Wayne Norman, who represents Harford and Cecil counties, said he and some friends hung a yellow and black "CHANGED" banner from the fence around the governor's mansion early Wednesday morning. Norman said the banner stayed up about 30 minutes before state troopers said it had to come down.

That disappointment didn't dampen his spirits, however. Norman described his mood as "ecstatic."

After the inaugural ceremony, hundreds passed through a receiving line in the State House Rotunda to congratulate Hogan and Rutherford.

In one two-minute stretch, Hogan gave 11 handshakes and eight hugs.

"You guys coming to the party tonight?" the new governor asked again and again.

He and Rutherford autographed a program for Byron Johnston, a 44-year-old Centreville man who came to watch the inauguration with his wife.

"This is a great, historic day for all of Maryland," Johnston said. "The sentiment is really about advancing our state, and not our politics."

Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

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