Republican Gov. Larry Hogan delivered the final State of the State address of his four-year term Wednesday, touting economic gains made during his tenure and distancing himself from the Republicans controlling the federal government.
Hogan’s 23-minute speech to the Democrat-dominated General Assembly called for bipartisanship and was delivered in a conciliatory tone that used the word “together” 14 times. He repeatedly called for Maryland leaders to transcend politics and compromise — a call made in contrast to what he described as a gridlocked and broken Washington 35 miles down the road.
He recalled his inauguration speech from in 2015, saying that back then “I reminded Marylanders that our state was better than that,” he said. “For the past three years we have been.”
He cast himself and his Democratic counterparts as providing a steady hand to govern the state.
“Through internal struggle and outward chaos, we have not faltered,” he said.
The governor highlighted the economic progress Maryland enjoyed since he was elected in 2014 — a common refrain from his administration — but on Wednesday he shared the credit with state legislators.
“Three years ago, our most pressing task was to grow the private sector, put more people to work, make Maryland more competitive, and to turn our economy around,” he said. “And that is exactly what we have done.”
Democrats, who remained seated during much of the speech and criticized it on Twitter while it was under way, panned the address as giving lip-service to bipartisanship and being full of election-year rhetoric.
“The governor’s speech, I think, was more of a campaign statement, more of an effort to characterize his administration in a way that’s favorable to him in an election year,” said House Majority Leader C. William Frick, a Democrat from Montgomery County. “It really is somewhat divorced from the experience we’ve had.”
Although Hogan drew a standing ovation from Republicans as he pressed the case for tougher sentencing for violent offenders, the mostly African-American and entirely Democratic delegation from Baltimore City — where murders surpassed 300 last year — remained seated.
The governor did get the entire General Assembly applauding on its feet twice: first, when he promised to sign a recently passed bill “the moment it reaches my desk” to allow rape victims to terminate the parental rights of their assailants. The second time was when he promised to continue putting more resources into the escalating opioid crisis.
Hogan used just one anecdote in his address, to illustrate the crushing toll from the opioid epidemic, which killed more people in Maryland last year than homicides and car accidents combined.
Hogan pulled from his suit jacket a photo of him with 29-year-old Army veteran Chad Book and Book’s mother, Karen Dolch, taken when Book graduated from welding school. Book died from a fentanyl and opioid overdose in December. The governor told lawmakers they must remember the human toll of the crisis as they look for solutions.
“That’s why no matter how hard it is, we cannot ever give up this fight,” Hogan said.
Hogan ran on pocketbook issues in 2014 and has remained popular in Maryland despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.
Republicans praised Hogan for succinctly summarizing the ways GOP leadership has helped the state.
“It is amazing how far Maryland has come over the last four years,” said House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke, a Republican from Anne Arundel County. “The conversation has turned from tax hikes to tax cuts and Maryland is stronger than it has been in decades. Our citizens are optimistic with the direction of our state.”
The governor told the 188 state lawmakers in the Senate and House of Delegates that “we cannot afford to turn back” six times.
He urged them to help him insulate residents from rising state tax bills and sky-rocketing insurance premiums, which he said were “caused by the failures in Washington.”
“We may not be able to control what they do in Washington, but we certainly can come together in Annapolis,” Hogan said.
Missing from his address was any mention of Republican President Donald J. Trump.
Democrats have been trying to link Hogan to Trump for months, highlighting ways they want the governor to be more forceful against the president’s comments and policies.
Several of the seven Democrats running in the June 26 primary to challenge Hogan pounced on that issue.
“Time and again, Larry Hogan's silence and inaction has enabled Donald Trump to push through damaging policies and systematically dismantle the institutions that our democracy is built on,” said Democrat Jim Shea, a Baltimore lawyer. “Maryland can no longer afford a governor that remains silent. It’s time to stop the silence.”
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said that though the Trump administration wasn’t mentioned by name, it played a role in the governor’s speech because it’s on the minds of so many people in Maryland.
“He can’t run away from the Trump administration. None of the Republicans can,” Busch said.
A Goucher Poll released in September found that while Hogan had a 62 percent approval rating in Maryland, 71 percent of residents disapproved of Trump.
“Our polling shows that the governor’s path to re-election is through moderation,” said political scientist Mileah Kromer, who directs the poll. “He needs to distance and distinguish himself from the president, without invoking him.”
Hogan also pressed the case for his legislative agenda, which includes live-streaming floor sessions of the General Assembly, exempting taxes on all retirement income for military veterans and corrections workers, and letting an independent commission — rather than politicians — draw boundaries of political districts after the 2020 census.
“Instead of becoming more like Washington, let’s send a message to Washington by putting the politics aside and coming together for all Marylanders,” Hogan said. He also invoked “Washington” as he sought support to tweak a recently passed bill requiring paid sick leave, which the governor had vetoed and critiqued as likely to kill jobs.
“We don’t want Annapolis to become like Washington, where bad policy is passed with a promise that a fix will come later," he said. "This issue is much too important and the impact is too far-reaching for us to risk getting it wrong.”
While Democrats saw Hogan as not going far enough to criticize the president directly, Republicans were impressed that he managed to take a moderate tone.
“It was a middle-of-the-road speech,” said Senate Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr., an Eastern Shore Republican. “It talked to both sides of the aisle on issues that were important to Marylanders … This is Governor Hogan being Governor Hogan.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Scott Dance and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.