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Editorial

Hogan's shrewd speech

In linguistics, there's a concept know as the "illocutionary speech act." It's defined various ways, but among the concepts it entails are utterances that, by the act of being spoken, make themselves true — "I now pronounce you husband and wife" perhaps being the best known example.

That, perhaps, is what Gov. Larry Hogan was attempting in his State of the State speech today. At a time when his administration and Democrats have experienced increasing friction, his speech was filled with repeated references to cooperation and bipartisanship. It wasn't a matter of urging Democrats to work with him so much as an extended assertion that bipartisanship is the rule in Annapolis and has been since he arrived. Unlike last year's defiantly self-congratulatory address that sounded like a mash-up of his campaign speeches, Mr. Hogan included few claims of personal credit and instead included Democrats in his administration's accomplishments and goals, whether they fully agree with them or not. The speech, as prepared for delivery, contained the word "I" 14 times and the word "we" 82 times.

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That has not always been the case, as in the incident last year when he took credit for the legislature's business competitiveness commission (which was announced before he declared his candidacy) or the time this fall when a spokesman snarkily complimented House Speaker Michael E. Busch for joining the governor in caring about the problems of Baltimore City. More substantively, Democrats have begun to fume at the governor's propensity for announcing big initiatives and consulting them on the details later — for example, closing the Baltimore City jail, revamping the city's bus lines or promising new money to address blight.

That certainly didn't happen in this speech. All of the initiatives he mentioned today are ones he has already proposed, including some modest, targeted tax cuts; fee reductions; changes to the way Maryland draws congressional and legislative district lines; and efforts to combat heroin addiction. Some of his ideas, such as accelerating increases to the Earned Income Tax Credit and implementing reforms proposed by the bi-partisan Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council, are widely popular with Democratic leaders, but others — notably redistricting reform — are not.

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The speech didn't appear to leave Democrats with steam pouring from their ears — as last year's did — but it's also not altogether clear that the Jedi mind trick Mr. Hogan attempted was working either. Rather than rallying to Mr. Hogan's agenda, Democrats derided it. In a news conference before the speech, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (a Democrat who is considered a potential challenger to Mr. Hogan in 2018) asked in reference to the governor's budget, "Where's the beef?" After the speech, Sen. James Rosapepe continued the fast food metaphor by calling the address "a nothingburger." The battle lines in Annapolis appear to be shifting from a fight about whether Mr. Hogan's agenda is dangerous for Maryland to one about whether his inaction is setting the state back.

That theme pervaded the Democratic response, provided by Sen. Catherine Pugh, the majority leader and a candidate for Baltimore mayor. She criticized him for failing to include operating assistance for Prince George's Hospital in his budget and couching the issue in terms of social justice. She noted Maryland's slip from first to third in Education Week's rankings of school systems (not mentioning that this first occurred under Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley) and implicitly criticized the governor for coming to the aid of schools in Republican counties that have declining enrollments but not doing the same for Baltimore City. She suggested that the governor wasn't doing enough to invest in transportation infrastructure, hampering Marylanders' ability to get to and from work, and she highlighted items on the progressive agenda, including paid sick leave, family leave and equal pay initiatives.

Mr. Hogan used his speech to rhetorically enfold the Democrats into one big tent with his administration. It's a shrewd tactic that puts him in a better position to win support for his agenda and sets him above the fray in the eyes of the voters. If he really could create an environment that's as harmonious as the one he described, he would be a shoo-in for re-election, and the Democrats know it. Their job is going to be to convince the voters that the governor's rhetoric doesn't match the reality, but if he continues to communicate his message this effectively, that's going to be a hard challenge.


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