As Larry Hogan returns from a round of presidential-run footsie in first-caucusing Iowa, including by now familiar interviews with national outlets about how he’s keeping his options open for a primary challenge to President Donald Trump, Maryland’s Republican governor would seem to be riding high. But in reality, he’s hurdling fast toward a reality check. It’s not Maryland’s Democrats who are going to make trouble for him — they’d probably be delighted to see him run for president, figuring a run would get him out of their hair for the next two years and boost the odds that President Trump will lose in 2020. No, it’s the contradictions inherent in Mr. Hogan’s position that set him up for tough times ahead. Here’s the story of the irresistible forces and immovable objects of Governor Hogan’s future, told in four numbers.
- $1 billion. That’s the approximate cost over this year and next of the legislation House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller are fast-tracking to begin implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as Kirwan Commission. It contains a variety of provisions voters support, like an expansion of public pre-K, better career training in high school, higher salaries and standards for teachers, and strong accountability mechanisms to make sure the money is used properly. It has the support of heavy hitters in the state’s business and higher education communities, and it's backed by exhaustive research into how Maryland’s schools stack up against the competition domestically and internationally (not so well) and how they can be reformed to better serve all students. Among those who voted in favor of the commission’s final recommendations was Mr. Hogan's budget secretary. When fully phased in after a decade, Kirwan would cost the state an extra $3.8 billion a year.
- $250 million. That’s the amount by which the state’s Board of Revenue Estimates is expected to reduce its projections for Maryland tax collections when it meets this week. The federal government shutdown hurt Maryland badly, but the bigger issue is that the sugar high from the Trump tax cuts is wearing off. And it’s not like the state was flush before that. Even without this latest revenue write-down, even without Kirwan, Governor Hogan’s budget department estimated that Maryland’s projected spending will exceed revenues by nearly $6 billion over the next four years. Mr. Hogan campaigned a promise not to raise taxes, and he’s stuck to it so far, but he’s never faced anything like this before. When he came into office in 2015, the projected four-year deficit was just $255 million.
- 78 percent. That’s the latest measure of Governor Hogan’s job approval rating from the Gonzales Poll. It shows he’s got the overwhelming support not just of Republicans in Maryland but also Democrats. And it dovetails with a Goucher Poll from last month that showed voters not only consider him personally likable but appreciate that he works across party lines to get things done. And what might voters like to see him work with Democrats to accomplish? The same Goucher Poll showed that nearly two-thirds of Marylanders say the state spends too little on education.
- 93 percent. That's President Trump’s approval rating among Republicans, per Rasmussen Reports. Did he get that kind of support from the GOP by working across party lines to get things done? Absolutely not. There is zero evidence that the Republican base has any interest in a candidate who preaches bipartisanship, much less one who actually backs it up by doing things like joining the U.S. Climate Alliance, yanking National Guard troops from the border or saving Obamacare.
It’s all well and good for Governor Hogan to say he’s keeping his options open on a 2020 primary challenge to President Trump, but at some point soon, he’s going to face a major crossroads. It’s highly likely that in the next few weeks, Democrats will present him with legislation committing the state to an extra billion dollars in spending at a time when we don’t have a spare billion lying around, or anything like it. What’s more, the clear and stated intent here is to lay down a marker for full implementation of Kirwan that, once established, voters will be loath to give up. What then? The Governor Hogan with a 78 percent approval rating in Maryland signs the bill and works with Democrats to find a way to pay for it. The Governor Hogan who even wants to contemplate a primary challenge against a president with a 93 percent approval rating from his party vetoes it and rails against irresponsible Democrats. He can't be both. Which will he choose?