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Op-ed

Maryland senator: Larry Hogan is a man without a moral compass | GUEST COMMENTARY

Gov. Larry Hogan and other Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore officials welcome the newest container shipping service, ZIM Shipping LineÕs eCommerce Baltimore Express (ZXB) during ceremony.
May 11, 2022. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun Staff)

The widely watched hearings of the congressional Jan. 6 committee have turned Wyoming’s Liz Cheney into America’s most visible anti-Trump Republican leader. But Cheney still has some serious competition for that recognition — from Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan.

Hogan is now finishing up his second and final gubernatorial term in Annapolis. He’s been outspokenly anti-Trump for far longer than Cheney, and his attacks on Trump have gone far beyond the crimes committed on January 6. This past May, in a California address, Hogan blasted Trump’s White House stint as “the worst four years for the GOP since the 1930s, even worse than after Watergate.”

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Hogan’s upfront opposition to Trump — combined with his highly favorable polling numbers in Maryland, a distinctly Democratic-leaning state — have thrust him front and center as the GOP’s most principled moderate alternative to electoral disaster should Trump once again top the party’s ticket.

I’ve been coming across this “principled” and “moderate” framing quite regularly these days, on everything from op-ed pages to cable TV political chatter. My eyes roll, almost reflexively, whenever the political talk turns this way. Listen, America, I find myself wanting to shout out, this Larry Hogan fellow in no way rates as a principled moderate.

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I’ll be beginning my eighth term in Maryland’s Senate as a Democratic legislator this January, and I’ve seen governors and lawmakers aplenty come and go over the years. A good many of them I dearly respect, for putting the people of Maryland over their own political futures. I wish I could place Larry Hogan in that category. I can’t.

Hogan owes his gubernatorial status to his opponent’s lackluster campaign in the 2014 election. Hogan campaigned in that race as a moderate and benefited mightily from a general voter fatigue with the incumbent Democratic leadership.

Once in office, Hogan’s own personal popularity began steadily growing, for a variety of reasons. For starters, the new governor beat back cancer, then lowered tolls on Maryland’s bridges and roads. But the opportunity to truly cement his popularity — and political brand — came with the rise of Donald Trump. Hogan soon became a prime face of anti-Trumpism, and, unlike other prominent Republicans, he didn’t curb his critique as Trump began winning primary after primary.

Meanwhile, in Annapolis, I began seeing Hogan as quite a different sort of political character, as a risk-averse governor intent on avoiding anything that might tarnish his glowing political brand.

In the Maryland legislature, I chair one of the Senate’s four prime committees. All these panels count on experienced executive branch officials for help understanding what the impact of proposed new policies may be, and the Maryland governor’s office, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has historically always delivered this advice.

But Governor Hogan, in one of his first gubernatorial moves, directed his departments and agencies not to weigh in on proposed legislation. Over his eight years in office, his officials kept silent on nearly 8,000 legislative proposals.

Why abstain from the legislative daily grind? Not taking positions has insulated Hogan from the blowback that invariably surfaces when an enacted piece of legislation turns out to be politically problematic. The governor could easily take as his motto that glorious couplet from the Canadian folk rock group Great Big Sea: “I want to be/consequence free.”

Now Governor Hogan has, to be sure, annually advanced his own legislative proposals. But labeling these proposals “gubernatorial initiatives” amounts to little more than an oxymoron since Hogan has almost never taken any follow-up steps to get any of his proposals passed. Governor Hogan hasn’t just ignored Democratic legislators; he has seldom met with or even acknowledged Republican lawmakers.

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Posturing, pandering and the pursuit of publicity have defined Hogan’s years at Maryland’s political summit, with the COVID crisis a prime example. Early on in the pandemic, the governor acquired test kits from South Korea, amid great fanfare that included an airport media event to celebrate the kits’ arrival. The showmanship won Hogan international publicity. The test kits, unfortunately, turned out to be incomplete and unusable. They ended getting flown away to New Jersey, with no official announcement — and no airport media event.

Hogan never let that embarrassment knock him off stride. He continued to take great credit for Maryland’s strong COVID effort on national TV, creating somewhat of an Alice-in-Wonderland moment for those of us familiar with the facts.

Hogan also discouraged mass vaccination sites and only reversed himself after pressure from the state Senate’s Vaccine Oversight Work Group.

In Hogan’s second term, public education emerged as a central focus after an independent blue-ribbon panel proposed a bold Blueprint for Maryland’s Future that called for nearly $4 billion in new investment. Hogan refused to meet with the panel and attacked the Blueprint’s price-tag. To no one’s great shock, he proceeded to veto the legislation, a veto later overridden.

On the environment, Hogan has proudly defined himself — at every opportunity — as a green governor. His actual governing has been everything but. Earlier this year, amid a major legislative debate on one of the most progressive climate bills the nation has yet seen, a gubernatorial tweet from Hogan labeled the initiative “a reckless and controversial energy tax.” Every Republican lawmaker in the statehouse would subsequently vote against the bill.

Then, some weeks later, Hogan allowed that same bill to become law without his signature. What happened to his opposition to the bill’s supposed recklessness? Hogan, Annapolis watchers speculated, had once again put his proverbial finger up in the air to see which way the wind was blowing. With polling showing wide support for the environmental legislation, Hogan simply ignored his earlier denunciations and put the veto pen back in his pocket.

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And why not? A governor doesn’t need a veto pen to sabotage legislation he finds inconvenient. That education reform Blueprint enacted over his veto? Hogan has blocked the release of the funds necessary to get the program underway.

The Hogan administration also continues to wink at the implementation of existing environmental law and, on economic issues, a similar story. During the worst of COVID, federal lawmakers made special funding available for unemployment insurance. Hogan wouldn’t seek the $1 billion available for Maryland and had to be sued to get it.

Maryland’s attorney general declined to defend the governor in court, and Hogan — with outside counsel — ultimately lost the case. But he had the last word. To pay his outside legal expenses, the governor demanded funds from the attorney general’s Consumer Affairs office.

Not exactly the behavior of a sainted “moderate.” But Hogan’s less-than-saintly behavior becomes even more evident when we look at his record on conducting free and fair elections.

Maryland has the only law in the nation that forbids the counting of mailed-in ballots until the Thursday after Election Day. Hogan this past May vetoed legislation that would have allowed for more timely vote counts, claiming the reform bill didn’t have enough screens to catch illegal voters. This sop to Trump voters sound familiar? With Maryland’s archaic law remaining in place, two July Maryland primary elections didn’t wind up decided until a month after Election Day.

Hogan’s term-limited stint as Maryland’s governor ends in January. What’s next for him? He most definitely has no national future within the Republican Party. In this summer’s Maryland GOP gubernatorial primary, Dan Cox, a rabid Trump supporter, trounced the Hogan-backed candidate.

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Might Hogan team somehow with Liz Cheney on an independent presidential ticket? Or position himself as an independent “moderate?”

I disagreed fundamentally with Hogan’s GOP predecessor, Maryland’s first 21st-century Republican governor. But that conservative Republican remained principled on virtually every issue. I always knew where he stood. Hogan has no such moral compass. His closest political parallel might well be the very person — Donald Trump — who has catapulted Larry Hogan to national fame. They both avoid responsibilities, turn facts on their heads and take undeserved credit.

Voters looking for a “moderate” alternative to Donald Trump’s MAGA universe should take care. Buyer beware.

Paul G. Pinsky is chairman of the Marylad Senate’s Education, health and Environmental Affairs Committee and has completed seven terms as a Maryland state senator. He can be reached at paul.pinsky@senate.state.md.us.


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