Maryland’s two-term Republican Gov. Larry Hogan urged a different direction for the GOP on Wednesday after taking the oath of office for another four years.
With President Donald Trump deeply unpopular in Maryland and the federal government partially shut down over Trump’s demands for a border wall, Hogan, who was introduced by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, praised the traditional wing of the Republican Party, while condemning the dysfunction in Washington and seeming to blame both the president and national Democratic leaders.
“Let’s repudiate the debilitating politics practiced elsewhere — including just down the road in Washington — where insults substitute for debate, recriminations for negotiation and gridlock for compromise,” Hogan told a crowd of hundreds gathered behind Annapolis’ historic State House.
Hogan became just the second Republican re-elected as governor in Maryland history when he defeated Democrat Ben Jealous by double digits in November. While other GOP candidates were wiped out in 2018 by a blue wave that swept the country in reaction to the first two years of Trump’s presidency, Hogan has said he possessed a bipartisan “purple surfboard” that he rode to victory.
During a ceremony that included speeches, musical performances, a jet flyover and a salute by military guns, Hogan was sworn in by Mary Ellen Barbera, the chief judge of Maryland's highest court.
Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford took their oaths of office using the same Bible used in 1955 by Gov. Theodore McKeldin of Baltimore — the only other Republican governor in Maryland history to be re-elected.
As so-called “Never Trump” Republicans search for a candidate to challenge the president in 2020 for the party’s nomination, some have been urging Hogan to run. The governor has largely demurred, saying he’s focused on running the state, while not definitively ruling out the prospect.
Bush — who has called Trump a “loser,” “liar” and “whiner” — told the crowd that Hogan is a model for the rest of the country.
“There aren’t a lot of people I would leave paradise to honor, but Gov. Larry Hogan is at the top of the list,” Bush said of flying out of Miami early Wednesday to a cloudy, chilly day in Maryland’s state capital. “What’s happening here in Annapolis is the antithesis of what’s happening in Washington, D.C., these days.”
Neither Hogan nor Bush mentioned Trump, but Bush lamented an eroding culture, invoked misuse of the president’s favorite social media platform, Twitter, and condemned bullying and lying.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Are we humbler or are we arrogant?’ ” Bush said. “I think Governor Larry Hogan is the best example in public life today to less coarsen our culture.”
In his speech, Hogan spoke of applying his approach to politics nationally.
“There is no place in America where these very same principles cannot succeed,” he said.
Later in the evening, an estimated 3,000 people attended a $150-per-person gala at the MGM National Harbor casino, where they sipped on cocktails and munched on chicken and hamburger sliders under a dim, bluish light.
Wearing sunglasses, Hogan took the stage to cheers while carrying a purple surfboard and slapping high-fives with supporters as the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” played.
“I still remember when we held our first event five years ago, I think we had seven people,” Hogan told the crowd. “Man, have we come a long way. Now we’re selling out the MGM just like Cher and Bruno Mars!”
Many Republican lawmakers and supporters were in attendance, as expected, but there also were some notable Democrats, among them: Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and state Senators Bobby Zirkin, Cheryl Kagan and Katie Fry Hester.
“The governor invited me,” Young said. “I don’t care what party he is, if the governor invites you, you go. I can work across the aisle.”
State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and Del. Rick Metzgar, Republicans from eastern Baltimore County, saw signs of a possible future for Hogan in his remarks and those of Bush.
“Is this a propelling speech to national politics, to the presidency?” Metzgar said. He said his “gut reaction” is that Hogan may be drawn further into national politics.
Salling predicted the same.
“It’s going to happen, and when it does, I’m not going to be surprised, but a lot of other people will be,” Salling said. “As a leader in a Dem state, he’s the most popular governor in the nation. Can he do the same thing in the nation? Why not? I think he has great opportunities.”
During his speech, Hogan invoked his father, Lawrence Hogan, who was the first Republican congressman on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to openly advocate for the impeachment of GOP President Richard Nixon amid the Watergate scandal.
“’No man, not even the president of the United States, is above the law,’” said Hogan, quoting his father.
That line, delivered against the backdrop of an ongoing, federal investigation into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, drew applause from the crowd.
Hogan repeatedly praised GOP establishment figures with whom Trump has clashed, including former Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Trump rival in his final years of life.
“As I look out at all of you, the backdrop is the beautiful dome of the United States Naval Academy chapel where I attended the funeral of another American hero, Senator John McCain, a man with passion, toughness and tenacity,” Hogan said.
And Hogan took his anti-Washington sentiment further than in previous speeches — in remarks that seemed to be thinly veiled commentary on the current president.
“You shouldn’t have to obsess over or argue constantly about angry and divisive politics,” the governor said. “You should be able to have confidence in the character and competence of the people you elect to office regardless of their party affiliation.”
Hogan’s speech made no mention of policy proposals he will pursue in a second term. The governor spoke in general terms about his achievements in office.
For instance, Hogan credited his administration with “historic economic growth” and “record job creation,” even as Maryland’s job growth has lagged behind some neighboring states. The governor’s office pointed to preliminary federal labor statistics for November, the most recent month available, that show 2.76 million Marylanders with jobs not related to agriculture. That’s the highest number in state history, but the number has increased along with the state’s population.
He also said the Chesapeake Bay is the cleanest it’s been in “recorded history,” when the bay’s cleanliness was just downgraded in a report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The governor’s office cited a University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science report card last summer that gave the bay’s health a C grade and noted “a significantly improving trend” since the mid-1980s.
Hogan repeated his favorite talking points, such as that he’s provided “historic levels” of school funding and highlighting his deal with legislative Democrats to lower health insurance rates in Maryland for the first time in a decade.
Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Maya Rockeymoore Cummings criticized Hogan’s invitation of Bush in a statement she issued after the inauguration.
“Governor Hogan inviting Jeb Bush to give remarks at his inauguration, and calling Bush’s time as governor a model, should give everyone pause,” said Rockeymoore Cummings, citing Bush’s conservative record in Florida.
“Last year, Governor Hogan often campaigned on a Democratic platform, at times taking credit for Democratic legislation, like the education lockbox, that he did not craft or support,” she said. “We hope that in his final term, Hogan lives up both to the spirit and the letter of bipartisanship.”
The governor chose speakers from both parties to share the podium. The event featured Isiah “Ike” Leggett, a Democratic former Montgomery County executive and past chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Leggett, too, took aim at Washington, saying Maryland residents are “tired of the bickering and the failure” in Washington.
“We should have our partisan competitive fights once every four years, instead of fighting with each other every year for that honor for four years,” Leggett said.
Zirkin, who is friendly with the governor, called Hogan’s speech the best inaugural speech he’s heard in two decades in Annapolis. He said the governor deserves credit for bipartisanship on issues such as criminal justice reform and environmental protection.
“If that was supposed to be for a national audience, then it was a perfect speech,” Zirkin said. “What he talked about and what we do here is precisely the opposite of what happens in Washington.”