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Governor-elect Larry Hogan, Baltimore Sun's "Marylander of the Year," at the Maryland State House.
Governor-elect Larry Hogan, Baltimore Sun's "Marylander of the Year," at the Maryland State House. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Around this time last year, the question of whether and when businessman Larry Hogan would enter the race for Maryland governor was of small interest beyond some hard-core Republican Party activists. Concocting a path for him to actually win was at that point was no more than a fun parlor game among Maryland politics' true obsessives, requiring so many hypotheticals as to seem absurd.

But win he did. While the state's mighty Democratic Party establishment was closing ranks behind its chosen candidate, Mr. Hogan was building on the extensive grassroots network he had developed during the previous few years and talking about the one issue voters cared most about: the economy. In doing so, he upended our notions about political campaigns and shook up the state's power structure in a way that will have lasting impact. Gov.-elect Larry Hogan is The Baltimore Sun's 2014 Marylander of the Year.

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We have rarely given that honor to politicians, figuring they get enough attention already. And there were certainly other worthy candidates — in particular, University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan, who announced this year that he would retire. But what Mr. Hogan accomplished this year is simply too remarkable and consequential to ignore.

Mr. Hogan was born into a moderate Republican tradition that appeared to have disappeared in this state along with the likes of Theodore McKeldin and Charles M. "Mac" Mathias. His father, Larry Hogan Sr., whom he memorably embraced on election night, was a congressman and a Prince George's County executive. Most famously, and in a story the younger Mr. Hogan retells with pride, his father was the only Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote for all three articles of impeachment against President Nixon.

It's that kind of independence and integrity that not only appealed to voters but puts Mr. Hogan in a solid position to govern. During the Republican primaries, he refused to be pulled to the right with his competitors and gave answers the party's base probably didn't want to hear on issues like abortion, gay marriage, gun control and climate change. He wouldn't join in when they promised the moon on tax cuts. During the general election, he didn't completely resist the urge to respond in kind when his opponent engaged in baseless, misleading attacks, but his message was by comparison positive and remarkably humble. His resounding victory, despite Democrats 2-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans, leaves no doubt about the mandate he was given by voters.

Mr. Hogan's success proved wrong several things the wise heads would tell you are inviolable truths of politics. It is often said that while voters may complain about negative ads, they work. Not this time. The spooky music, ominous voice-overs, scary graphics and blurry, unflattering pictures of Mr. Hogan that characterized many of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's slick ads merely turned voters off. It turns out that sticking to the issues can work.

It's also said that the only thing that matters in politics is money, but this time, the candidate with the most money — by far — lost. Mr. Hogan chose to accept public financing for the general election, and it proved to be plenty to get his message out. Most of the time he would have spent calling well-heeled supporters for donations he was able to spend instead talking to average Marylanders. Now he comes into office beholden not to special interests but to all the people who checked off the donation box on their Maryland income tax returns over the years.

And there's a new axiom that says likes on Facebook don't translate into anything in the real world. But this time, they did. The advocacy group Mr. Hogan set up several years ago, Change Maryland, amassed some 70,000 followers on Facebook before the campaign even began. Though Mr. Brown had the support of more tried-and-true networks for political mobilizing, such as labor unions, Mr. Hogan's new form of grassroots organizing won out in the end. That's good news for any who feel like their voices aren't being heard, whether they're conservatives or progressives or something in between.

The big question now is what happens after Mr. Hogan is inaugurated. Both he and the Democratic powers-that-be in the legislature are pledging cooperation, but we saw how promises like that worked out when Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was governor. Fortunately, Mr. Hogan, who was Mr. Ehrlich's appointments secretary, saw it too. He says he learned some important lessons from that experience, and we hope the legislative leaders did as well. As Marylanders, we all have a vested interest in seeing a successful partnership between them.

Readers of this page will recall that although we endorsed Mr. Hogan in the primary, we did not in the general election. We had concerns about his lack of experience in elective office and the degree to which he had yet to flesh out his views on virtually any topic other than taxes, government spending and the economy. He still has work to do to fill in the blanks.

But he has already changed the nature of debate in Annapolis. Maryland made tremendous progress on many fronts during the period when Gov. Martin O'Malley and the legislature were working in near lockstep, but there were also times when the cause of partisan comity trumped good policy. We need vigorous debate on the issues, not party calls, and we need checks and balances, not backroom deals. Maryland will be stronger with a viable two-party system. Time will tell what kind of governor Mr. Hogan will become, but what he has already accomplished — astonishingly, and against all odds — has changed Maryland for the better.

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