This week the New York Times held up Gov.-elect Larry Hogan as an exemplar of Republicans turning away from the ideologically-driven tea party politics of 2010 and toward pragmatism. The Times identified a new breed of governors in that mold, not just in blue states like Maryland and Illinois but in solidly red ones like Tennessee as well. Mr. Hogan is quoted in the article saying his victory "had nothing to do with partisan politics" and that he did not plan "to push [Maryland] in a conservative direction." At least initially, it seemed like he would have some room to maneuver in a state Republican Party that also saw victories by a trio of socially moderate, fiscally conservative county executives in Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard counties.
But the divisive wing of the state GOP is, apparently, not quite ready to hold its tongue.
First, we had Kirby Delauter, the newly elected Republican Frederick County councilman who made international news by threatening on Facebook to sue the Frederick News-Post if it printed his name without permission. He apologized after an epic takedown by the News-Post's editorial board, saying that he had written the original post in haste and anger and was willing to admit that he was wrong. Fair enough. Let he who has never posted something stupid on Facebook cast the first stone. But what about the unsung anti-hero in this saga, fellow Republican councilman Billy Shreve, who sprang to Mr. Delauter's defense and said somebody should sue the News-Post. "I think media outlets are cowards and they hide behind the label of journalists and that's a bully pulpit to expand their liberal (agenda)," he, somewhat ironically, told the News-Post.
(For the record, the initial story by News-Post reporter Bethany Rodgers that set off this mess had nothing to do with pushing a "liberal agenda" but was a report about concerns that Messrs. Shreve and Delauter had lodged with new County Executive Jan Gardner about council members' parking assignments and other minor matters. In an admirable feat of restraint and professionalism, it was written generously enough not to make them sound like petty fools.)
Not getting the memo about apologies last week was Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso, who punctuated a hearing on legislation restricting the construction of affordable housing in the county with expressions of derision and scorn for those who came to testify that they had benefited from affordable housing. Rather than regretting his words after the fact, Mr. Grasso doubled down, telling Capital reporter Rema Rahman that people who seek government assistance are "freeloaders," in particular those who need assistance to help feed, clothe and house their children. People "use children as a crutch to describe laziness," he said.
The legislation in question was born out of an uproar in Pasadena over a developer's proposal for an 84-unit mixed income housing development in that upper-class community. The plan was for the apartments to be targeted to those who make $50,000 or less a year. Mr. Grasso's contention is that if you make so little as to need housing assistance of any kind, you shouldn't live in Anne Arundel County. So, for the sake of argument, if we take $50,000 in household income as the threshold, a little more than a quarter of the county ought to be looking elsewhere in Mr. Grasso's view.
And finally, we have the case of Robin Frazier, the former Carroll County commissioner. She lost her re-election bid last year but saw her political career resurrected when the county's Republican Central Committee picked her for the state Senate seat being vacated by Joe Getty, who is taking a post in the Hogan administration. Should Mr. Hogan confirm the committee's choice, as governors almost always do, he will see an even-keeled and articulate spokesman for his agenda in the Senate replaced by someone whose claim to fame is her pledge to go to jail rather than omit the word "Jesus" from a prayer at the start of a commission meeting. What makes the choice all the more inexplicable is that the committee members passed over the well qualified and eminently reasonable Del. Justin Ready. It's almost as if they don't want the governor to succeed.
Mr. Hogan won election by avoiding divisive social issues and focusing on a centrist agenda of fiscal conservatism and economic growth. But apparently that memo hasn't trickled down to all corners of the state GOP just yet. The governor-elect has a golden opportunity to build a competitive Maryland Republican Party, so long as his fellow Republicans don't get in the way.