The Baltimore Sun endorses Governor Larry Hogan for re-election. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Four years ago, we very nearly endorsed Larry Hogan for governor. We had significant doubts about his Democratic opponent’s record and the campaign he had run. Mr. Hogan, meanwhile, offered the prospect of something we had long thought Maryland needed — a moderate, pragmatic executive who could cooperate with the Democratic majority in the General Assembly or act as a check on it when warranted.
But we also had reservations. Mr. Hogan had never held public office before, and he had no record to judge. Particularly concerning, he voiced no position on and evinced little interest in a wide swath of things governors have to deal with, from health care to the environment. It was, at the time, simply too big a leap for us to take.
Today, many of our concerns have been allayed. Mr. Hogan was true to his promise to steer clear of social issues like abortion and LGBT rights. He did not seek to weaken Maryland gun laws and even endorsed some measures to strengthen them. His administration worked closely with the General Assembly to shore up the Affordable Care Act and reform the criminal justice system. On the environment, no one will confuse him for the second coming of Parris Glendening, but his record is certainly much better than we might have expected on issues from fracking to air pollution to nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
He has made good to focus on business issues, seeking reviews of Maryland’s regulatory environment and, laudably, working to eliminate the collateral consequences of incarceration that hinder job and entrepreneurial prospects for ex-offenders. We have long argued for the importance of a viable two-party system in Maryland, and he has provided it largely without the kind of partisan acrimony that’s now ubiquitous in Washington (and was in Annapolis the last time a Republican was governor). We saw how Mr. Hogan dealt with a crisis after the 2015 unrest in Baltimore, and his successful battle with cancer revealed a human side that we and millions of others could identify with.
But if we are no longer worried about the same things we were four years ago, we have developed a new concern, and it’s a big one. Mr. Hogan says he sees Baltimore as the heart of the state, but his actions in office have too often treated it as an afterthought, if not with outright contempt. The prime example, of course, is his decision to cancel the Red Line light rail — a project leaders in the region had been working on and investing in for a decade and for which the federal government was poised to contribute $900 million. He has since poured billions into the Washington-area Metro system while offering Baltimore a bus overhaul that can generously be described as underwhelming. When he presented his statewide plan for road improvements, Baltimore City was literally left off the map.
Audio: Sun's editorial page editor responds to endorsement criticism
He had to be cajoled into providing money to help city schools cope with declining enrollment after already having promised it to rural counties that supported him politically. He withheld millions for school repairs and renovations from the city (and Baltimore County) over a political dispute about air conditioning ginned up by his ally, Comptroller Peter Franchot. When kids were shivering in city classrooms last winter, his reaction was to point fingers of blame at the adults in the system rather than doing whatever it took to help — or even seeking to understand the ways state school funding policies over the years had contributed to the situation.
For nearly four years, Gov. Larry Hogan has done something almost unthinkable for a Republican in Maryland: maintain sky-high job approval ratings. Hogan consistently polls as one of the most popular governors in the country. Hogan, 62, has achieved popularity through a blend of factors.
Mr. Hogan can rightly say he alone did not stop the State Center redevelopment that was conceived under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and stalled by opportunistic litigation during former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s two terms. As economic conditions had changed, the deal needed to be altered, and neither Mr. Franchot nor the third member of the Board of Public Works, Nancy Kopp, a Democrat, would vote for it in its original form. He can also point to a lawsuit by the former developer as preventing the state from moving forward with new plan for the aging state office complex. The governor insists he wants to redevelop it, but he has crucially not committed to keeping the 3,000 state workers on the site. With them, State Center is an extremely attractive site for high-quality mixed use development. Without them — by the state’s consultant’s estimates — it’s a decent spot for some strip malls, fast food joints and B-class offices.
When Mr. Hogan looks at Baltimore, he too often seems to see a morass and a money pit, not a part of the state for which he is equally responsible and certainly not a place of great opportunity. That matters to us deeply. Yet we still endorse Governor Hogan for re-election. Here’s why.
The case for Mr. Hogan
For starters, our list of complaints does not encompass the totality of Mr. Hogan’s record when it concerns Baltimore. On the night of the worst post-Freddie Gray unrest, when Baltimore’s leadership was literally invisible, he stepped in to reassure the city, and he conducted himself with sensitivity in the days that followed. He has worked with Mayor Catherine Pugh to resurrect the city-state partnership to fight violent crime that showed great effect when Mr. O’Malley was governor and Sheila Dixon was mayor. By and large, he has provided what Mayor Pugh has asked for in terms of resources to modernize and reform the Baltimore Police Department. He has also substantially increased the state’s role in Baltimore’s anti-blight efforts — slow and difficult but essential work. And despite his occasionally harsh assessment of the city school system, he did agree to provide extra funds to patch over the district’s chronic budget shortfall for a period of years until new, fairer education funding formulas can be enacted. We also appreciated his initial support for Baltimore’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.
Republican Larry Hogan has done what he told voters he would do four years ago on the day he was sworn in as governor of Maryland: govern from the middle. It is for this reason and others we are endorsing Hogan for governor again this year.
And in many other respects, we have been pleased by his leadership. Health care has been a particular strong suit. His administration’s cooperation with the Democratic leaders in the General Assembly to enact a reinsurance pool this year, and its subsequent success in getting the Trump administration to sign off on it, turned projected huge increase in individual insurance premiums on the state health care exchange into decreases. Perhaps even more important, his administration not only supported the innovative reform to Maryland’s unique hospital payment system that the O’Malley and Obama administrations agreed to but they renewed and expanded it through negotiations with the Trump administration. Maryland’s efforts to improve patient care while reducing cost are a national model.
We wholeheartedly embrace Governor Hogan’s call to create a nonpartisan system for redrawing congressional and legislative district lines. Democrats’ refusal to enact it is shameful.
Mr. Hogan’s stewardship of state finances has been sound. He has neither made large new spending commitments nor attempted big tax cuts but has instead maintained a steady approach to the budget. This year, when it became clear that unintended side effects of the federal tax cuts would increase state income tax collections, he again worked cooperatively with the legislature to offer protection for lower-income Marylanders while banking much of the windfall to lay the groundwork for a major increase in education spending related to the expected findings of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. His adoption of the Democrats’ proposal for a “lockbox” for casino revenue is another step along the same path.
A new model for two-party governance
That last point reflects something unusual about Mr. Hogan — his willingness to adopt (some would say, co-opt) ideas and policies first proffered by Democrats and claim credit for them. He has shown himself to be adept at jumping on politically popular bandwagons, whether that’s the fracking ban, the lockbox or free community college. It drives Annapolis Democrats nuts. They argue, not without some justification, that Mr. Hogan has no real agenda and is instead running on theirs. To which we would respond: How exactly is that going badly? We are accustomed in Maryland to governors who are the real drivers of policy, but what we have instead with Mr. Hogan is a governor who sometimes seeks to put the brakes on the legislature’s policy initiatives but otherwise focuses on the day-to-day business of running the state. Consequently, Mr. Hogan has offered little in the way of an agenda for his second term beyond offering more of the same.
In Jealous, a worthy opponent
Mr. Hogan’s opponent, Democrat Ben Jealous, is at the opposite extreme when it comes to offering an agenda. He has issued reams of position papers on education, health care, criminal justice, the environment, economic development, taxes and more. His ideas are often detailed and reflect both his sensibility as a civil rights leader and his embrace of the progressive policy agenda that is animating much of the Democratic base. In some areas, we think he’s got exactly the right ideas. He’s strong on the opioid crisis, police reform, urban development and public safety. Indeed, if this contest were just about who we think would be more devoted to the causes that specifically affect Baltimore, he wins, no contest.
Democratic nominee Ben Jealous has released more than a dozen detailed proposals in his quest to unseat Republican Gov. Larry Hogan: Medicare for all. Free college tuition. Universal prekindergarten. Ending what Jealous calls mass incarceration. Cutting the state sales tax.
But there are other huge swaths of his agenda about which we have significant concerns. We are wary of upending Maryland’s health care system to create a Medicare for all plan, for example, and we have never been strong advocates for legalizing recreational marijuana. And beyond the specifics of any one proposal, the sum total of what Mr. Jealous proposes is staggering in cost. He has sought to explain how he would pay for many of the items on his agenda — not just universal health care but free college, large pay raises for teachers, billions to settle a lawsuit by advocates for Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities, universal pre-K, a sales tax cut, and on and on — but the cumulative effect is hard to imagine.
We admire Mr. Jealous a great deal. We named him Marylander of the Year in 2013 (a year before giving the same honor to Mr. Hogan) for his work as president and CEO of the NAACP and his advocacy for marriage equality, Maryland’s dream act and the abolition of capital punishment here. He is a strong leader, and his lifelong commitment to social justice is undeniable. But we don’t believe he has made the case to replace Governor Hogan.
For some Maryland voters, the issues we’ve just described are irrelevant. This election, for them, is about nothing more or less than registering a vote of approval or defiance of the president. No question, there’s something appealing about the idea of electing a civil rights leader in the age of Donald Trump. But there’s also much to be said for re-electing a Republican who is willing to openly stand up to his party’s leader, and who does so in a calm, measured, positively un-Trump-like way.
We have our disagreements with Governor Hogan. His decision on the Red Line, in particular, we will have a hard time forgetting. But in considering the totality of his record, we conclude that he has lived up to his promise to govern in a way that reflects Maryland’s “middle temperament.” He was the right leader for Maryland during his first term, and we believe he will be again for a second. He has our endorsement.