Those who thought that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown would seek to ignore the fact that he faces competition in November's general election appear to be wrong. But to say that he is engaging with Republican nominee Larry Hogan isn't exactly right either. Rather, the Democrat and presumed front-runner for governor has been busily criticizing a version of Mr. Hogan of his own invention while skating away from substantive debate about any of the actual issues in the race. It may be smart politics, but it's depressing democracy.
On Tuesday, Mr. Brown criticized Mr. Hogan for something Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. did 11 years ago. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Brown touted his long-time support for Maryland's version of the Dream Act, which grants in-state tuition to certain undocumented immigrants, while speaking to a Hispanic business group. "I supported the Dream Act when Governor Ehrlich vetoed the Dream Act," Mr. Brown said, according to the Post. "And someone you'll hear from this afternoon named Larry Hogan was part of that leadership team that vetoed the Dream Act."
A little reality check here: Mr. Hogan was appointments secretary under Mr. Ehrlich. That means he was responsible for vetting candidates to serve in various administrative posts, boards and commissions and judgeships. Perhaps Mr. Hogan is reluctant to say it, as it would undermine a chief line on his political resume, but that didn't exactly make him a major player in determining Ehrlich administration policies. Still, it's much simpler for Mr. Brown to tar Mr. Hogan as Ehrlich redux rather than to attack Mr. Hogan's actual position on the matter, which is characteristically squishy — he opposed the Dream Act when it was finally enacted in 2011 but has said repeatedly that he would not seek its repeal.
Similarly, Mr. Brown has aired an ad attacking Mr. Hogan for favoring college tuition increases, the evidence for which is a Washington Post article from 2003 reporting comments by the late Richard E. Hug, who was Mr. Ehrlich's chief fund-raiser and a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. In the article, Mr. Hogan is never mentioned, and other Ehrlich administration officials are quoted as distancing the governor from Hug's idea of doubling tuition. Again, attacking Mr. Hogan on his actual position on college tuition would be difficult, as he has not stated one. In a letter to local television stations asking them to stop airing the ad, the Hogan campaign writes, "In fact, Larry Hogan has never made any representation with regard to college tuitions."
In another ad, Mr. Brown trumpets his plan to enact universal, voluntary pre-K in Maryland and criticizes Mr. Hogan for opposing it and wanting to "spend twice as much on huge corporate give-aways every year." He arrives at that by taking the estimate for the cost of his plan to establish full-day pre-K for 4-year-olds (about $153 million when fully phased in) and comparing it to the projected loss in tax revenue associated with a bill the legislature rejected this year that would have immediately dropped Maryland's 8.25 percent corporate income tax rate to 6 percent, which is the rate in Virginia.
And the evidence that Mr. Hogan supported that particular legislation and would try to enact it as governor? Two sentences from an op-ed he wrote in The Sun in April criticizing the joint economic development agenda pursued this year by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller: "Missing from the agenda were meaningful proposals for which business leaders have been loudly advocating for years. For example, legislation to reduce Maryland's 8.25 percent corporate tax rate in order to enhance its ability to compete with neighboring states such as Virginia, where the rate is 6 percent, died once again."
To be sure, Mr. Hogan has advocated reducing Maryland taxes, but he has been — perhaps you'll notice a theme here — a bit vague about which ones, how much and when. The exception to that rule has been his seemingly off-the-cuff promise to eliminate state taxation on all retirement income. That would be an excellent target for Mr. Brown to attack from a standpoint of substance, but going after Mr. Hogan's "huge retiree give-aways" doesn't have quite the same ring as "corporate give-aways." Mr. Brown succeeded in the primary by criticizing Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler for wanting to lower the corporate tax while questioning the cost of universal pre-K. Why bother coming up with new material?
This is not to say that Mr. Hogan is giving Marylanders the campaign they deserve either. He is content to run against Mr. Brown's boss, Gov. Martin O'Malley, rather than engage in a debate about any of the ideas the lieutenant governor has actually proposed. Mr. Brown's pre-K plan, for example, is ripe for criticism — not because it's a bad idea but because his mechanism to pay for it is pure fantasy. But claiming that Mr. O'Malley taxed the rain is much catchier.
At a time when evidence is mounting that Maryland's economy is under increased strain, voters could use a real debate about the direction of the state. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be something either Mr. Hogan or Mr. Brown is inclined to provide.
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