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'Just' a small businessman, Hogan bringing a new style to State House

The adjective Gov.-elect Larry Hogan applies to himself most often is "just" — "just" a small businessman, "just" a regular guy, "just" someone who was fed up with politics and wanted to make a difference.

As Hogan, 58, is inaugurated Wednesday as Maryland's 62nd governor, he will definitively become more than just an average citizen. Yet, with his affable and at times self-deprecating manner, the Republican brings to the state's highest office a distinct style — one with implications for how the businessman-turned-politician will govern.

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"What he has going for him is his personality and his populism," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat. "Because he has no record, he can say what the people want to hear, and the people have no reason not to believe him."

So far, Hogan has persuaded much of the Annapolis Democratic establishment that he will govern Maryland in a man-of-the-people style.

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"This governor has never held public office before, and in a sense he has a very fresh start," Miller said. "He doesn't have to follow the normal script."

Hogan will begin Inauguration Day with a prayer service, then take the oath of office and give a speech on the steps of the State House, introduced by his friend and political ally New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Hogan will be the star of a traditional black-tie gala Wednesday night in Baltimore, but has planned another party for Saturday that he describes as not requiring "a monkey suit." It will feature jeans and beer.

Because Hogan will be Maryland's first governor elected on public financing, he does not have a cadre of big donors who believe he owes them something in return. But that hasn't stopped scores of people from lining up to try to curry favor.

For example, a group of South Asian-American community leaders who backed his rival, Democrat Anthony G. Brown, held an event this month that raised $100,000 for Hogan's inauguration. One of the organizers, Jasdip "Jesse" Singh, walked away impressed with Hogan's down-to-earth and conciliatory tone.

"He is a very bipartisan guy," said Singh. "Whatever events he comes to, he's always said, 'I don't care if you voted for me or not, if you gave money to my campaign or not, we're in this together.' That made a big difference, I think, in the way people trust him."

Hogan's forthright style persuaded Baltimore Democrat Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. to join his administration as a special assistant, an arrangement that began when Hogan visited the orange juice stand Mitchell runs at a Baltimore farmers' market on Sundays.

"He's real," Mitchell said. "He's just a regular guy. He came to my stand, just drank juice and hung out."

Unlike his Democratic predecessor, the wonkish, poetry-quoting technocrat Martin O'Malley, Hogan is plain-spoken. He jokes with reporters about his wife, Yumi, and his struggles to watch his weight. He tells stories about his mother's death.

Longtime friend and business associate Steven McAdams said Hogan has the same demeanor in public as he does behind closed doors.

"He's genuine and he's accepting of all people," McAdams said. "If you look him in the eye and he talks to you, you see a real person."

McAdams, who will join Hogan's administration as director of community initiatives, said that as a businessman, Hogan tends to overlook minor disagreements and focus on the common ground that will get a deal made. And he applies the same philosophy to his personal life.

When thetwo were becoming friends, McAdams was going through a separation. He said Hogan offered the most practical and healing advice.

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"He would always remind me that there's a fine line between love and hate when there's that many emotions involved, and to focus on the love," McAdams said. "It's easy in a situation like that to be bitter, but Larry reminded me to remember the good memories."

The son of a politician, Hogan grew up in and around politics but never held elected office. His father, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., was a congressman and Prince George's County executive.

The younger Hoganworked as appointments secretary for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who left office eight years ago amid deep acrimony with the Maryland Democrats who controlled the legislature.

Many observers say Hogan has signaled that he learned not to repeat the mistakes of Ehrlich's tenure. Hogan has much less combative demeanor than his former boss.

"He seems very nonpolarizing," said Thomas Schaller, who teaches political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and frequently writes op-ed pieces for The Baltimore Sun."He seems to be self-aware but not self-absorbed, and that's not a bad combination in a human being, let alone in a governor."

Hogan will need the goodwill and personal skills as he navigates a legislature still dominated by Democrats and works toward his campaign promise to cut state spending. He plans to reveal his budget plans Thursday, and has warned of "tough medicine" needed to eliminate an estimated $750 million shortfall.

Part of the optimism about Hogan's coming tenure might be tied to his largely single-issue campaign.

"The only thing we know is that he ran to cut taxes and end the allegedly bad business climate," said Don Norris, a longtime observer of Maryland politics. "He told us what he didn't like, but he didn't tell us what he wanted to do."

That could give Hogan the political freedom to attack whatever problem he chooses.

"He's not fettered by a previous record," said Republican Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell. "He can go right at [an issue] directly without being called a flip-flopper."

Not surprisingly, groups that often agreed with a Democratic governor have some concern.

The largest of the unions representing state workers, AFSCME, sent Hogan two letters requesting a meeting, along with several phone calls. It wasn't until media outlets reported that the union felt shut out by Hogan's administration that his top lieutenants arranged a meeting, state president Patrick Moran said. Under O'Malley, AFSCME was routinely consulted on state decisions.

"I think he's trying to strike a balance, but we'll see," Moran said.

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Inaugural events

St. Mary's Catholic Church, Annapolis

8 a.m. Prayer service (invitation only)

Senate chamber

12:01 p.m. Official swearing-in

Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford

12:03 p.m. Official swearing-in

Gov. Larry Hogan.

State House steps

12:30 p.m. Inaugural ceremony and address

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State House rotunda

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12: 45 p.m. Public reception and receiving line

Baltimore Hilton

6:30 p.m. VIP reception (invitation only)

Baltimore Convention Center

8 p.m. Inaugural Gala (tickets required)

Online coverage

Go to baltimoresun.com at noon to watch live video of Larry Hogan's inauguration, courtesy of Maryland Public Television. And look for coverage all day by Baltimore Sun reporters and photographers.

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