We're happy to see that Gov. Larry Hogan wised up and backed off his plan to help pay for a new Baltimore jail by shortchanging the city's two historically black universities, but the mess that was his Thursday still bears some attention. The jail debacle, an angry denunciation from the Legislative Black Caucus and his comparison on the radio that same day of legislators to kids on spring break — "They come here for a few weeks, they start breaking up the furniture and throwing beer bottles off the balcony" — were all unforced errors that could be avoided by a governor who does more listening and less talking about how popular he is.
We get that the Democrats in Annapolis aren't exactly welcoming him with open arms or jumping to enact his agenda. They have tried on a number of fronts to hem in his authority — an issue, by the way, on which we have taken his side twice in the last week — and they overrode all six of his vetoes.
But Mr. Hogan does himself no favors by falling into the trap of disdain for the legislature that has bedeviled any number of his predecessors. He can opine, as he did en route to the spring break comment on WBAL-AM's C4 Show on Thursday that "two-thirds of the people approve of the job I'm doing, and the legislature has decided to focus on the one-third," but his popularity won't necessarily always be thus — ask former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., or anyone who was around to witness the effects of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's war on the legislature some decades ago. Delegates and senators represent the people, too, and they are generally more closely attuned to their individual constituencies than any state-wide officeholder, no matter how high his job approval rating may be.
Mr. Hogan didn't distinguish in his comments between Democrats and members of his own party — a fact not lost on Republican legislators — but for what it's worth, in the same election when Mr. Hogan beat his Democratic opponent 51 percent to 47 percent, Marylanders voted for Democratic legislative candidates over Republicans by a margin of about 58 percent to 42 percent.
Mr. Hogan is at his best when he is at his humblest and most generous. He won his campaign by presenting himself as an ordinary businessman who loves his state and wants to make it better. He earned admirers when he stood above Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's post-riot sniping and spent time walking the streets of West Baltimore. He touched millions with the forthright and self-effacing way he battled cancer. He built his approval rating by preaching fealty to Maryland's "middle temperament" and promising moderation, cooperation and compromise.
But Mr. Hogan's less flattering side comes out all too frequently — when he dismisses an entire branch of government as spoiled children, when he acts as if no one before him cared about the deplorable conditions at the Baltimore City Detention Center or that all those who had spent more than a decade devising and building support for Baltimore's Red Line were idiots. That attitude obviously doesn't help when he tries to enact his agenda but it also contributes to mistakes like proposing to build a jail in part with money that was otherwise slated for new buildings at Morgan State University and Coppin State University. Mr. Hogan said he forwarded the plan for a new jail because he thought that's what Baltimore's leaders wanted, but we can't imagine he would have come up with the proposal he did if he was actually listening to any of them.
Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that the Legislative Black Caucus held a news conference Thursday questioning the jail plan and connecting it to other decisions he's made that adversely affected their constituents, including not appointing an African American person to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education (leaving the school board without such representation for the first time in more than four decades) and delaying funding for a Prince George's County hospital and for demolition of vacant blighted Baltimore City properties. Yet we can't help but imagine all that, too, could have been smoothed over if not for the inexplicable difficulty the governor and caucus have had in scheduling a breakfast meeting that has been traditional in Annapolis for years.
Don't get us wrong, we're not saying that the Democrats are blameless. Plenty (though not all) of them are itching to find ways to defeat Governor Hogan and stymie his agenda. But how to respond is his choice. He can be snarky and boastful, or he can rise above the fray. He needs to realize — and the events of this week should have underscored the fact — that the greatest threat he faces may not be from the Democrats but from himself and the self-congratulatory bubble in which he too often operates.