When Gov. Larry Hogan held a news conference this week to announce a plan to protect some $4 billion in casino revenues for public education, Del. Eric Luedtke could no longer hold his tongue — or rather, his thumbs.
“This is old hat by now,” the Montgomery County Democrat tweeted Thursday. “Hogan often 1. Holds press conference to announce a GREAT IDEA that happens to have already been introduced by a legislator. 2. Introduces a duplicative bill. 3. Does literally no work to get the bill passed. 4. Takes credit when the other bill passes.”
The delegate’s rant channeled the frustration of many Democrats toward a Republican governor who has shown a penchant — some might say genius — for seizing on popular ideas from the majority party and slapping his brand on them. Sometimes the governor shares credit, sometimes not.
Luedtke said Hogan applied the same strategy to backing a manufacturing tax credit and income tax breaks for first responders without crediting the Democratic lawmakers who had long championed those policies.
“Dude’s willing to walk over anyone to get attention,” Luedtke later tweeted.
Hogan and his team are unsympathetic with the Democratic complaints. They say the governor’s willingness to adopt ideas championed by the opposition party is a sign of his commitment to bipartisanship and one of the reasons for Hogan’s lofty approval ratings as he seeks re-election in November.
“The last thing Marylanders care about are legislators complaining about who’s getting credit for what idea,” said Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer. “They just want the best ideas to move forward — something the governor has said repeatedly since he took office.”
The governor frequently shares credit with lawmakers who had championed ideas before him, in some cases for years before Hogan took office in 2015, Mayer said.
Melissa Deckman, who chairs the political science department at Washington College in Chestertown, said Hogan is simply being an effective politician.
“Democrats are understandably frustrated,” Deckman said. “They’re going into an election year in a state that is 2-1 Democratic and Hogan is still enjoying high approval and may very well be re-elected as a Republican. That’s [rubbing] Democrats the wrong way.”
Hogan’s legislative plan to protect casino revenue from being siphoned away from public education is just the latest example of a proposal initially floated by Democratic lawmakers and then co-opted by Hogan.
The governor’s proposal is a synthesis of two Democratic proposals.
Del. Maggie McIntosh and Sen. Joan Carter Conway, both Baltimore Democrats, proposed legislation to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ensure that casino revenues go toward enhanced spending on public schools instead of helping to pay for the state’s basic education aid formula.
Del. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat, has proposed the same mandate through statute. Her approach would make the proposal take effect more quickly but wouldn’t be as hard for future administrations to reverse.
Hogan, at a news conference where none of the three legislators was invited or mentioned, said he would introduce a bill that would take the same statutory path as Washington’s bill but adopt a four-year phase-in as called for in the McIntosh-Conway amendment.
The outcome seems predetermined even before Hogan’s bill is introduced. House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller have thrown their support behind the McIntosh-Conway approach, and all indications are they have the votes to pass it.
Nevertheless, Hogan put his stamp on the idea in a way that burnishes his credentials on the pivotal issue of education in an election year. Democrats, including Miller, frequently complain that Hogan submits bills but does little to get them passed. But the chances of the voters knowing or caring are slim.
Democratic leaders scorn Hogan’s claims of bipartisanship, even when bolstered by endorsements from Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot, who appeared with the governor at his education announcement.
“Both of them are trying to take the credit for legislative initiatives,” Busch said.
Del. Mike McKay, a Republican from Cumberland, said he takes Luedtke’s tweets as complimenting Hogan’s approach.
“If we don’t pull good ideas from both sides of the aisle, how can we then make sure we’re moving Maryland in the right direction,” McKay said.
Hogan’s willingness to take legislators’ ideas and make them his own is by no means unique among Maryland governors.
Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley championed same-sex marriage in 2012 only after lawmakers of his party led the way. Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. made legalization of slots his signature issue after Democrats such as Miller had pushed the idea for years.
Luedtke cited two others issues in addition to the education announcement that demonstrate Hogan’s savvy.
Hogan successfully pushed a manufacturing tax credit — an idea championed by Sen. Roger Manno, a Montgomery County Democrat. And the governor adopted the Hometown Heroes Act providing tax income breaks to first responders — a measure pushed for years by Del. Sheila Hixson, a veteran Montgomery County Democrat who is retiring after this year.
Luedtke said it was Hogan’s mention of that bill during the governor’s State of the State this year — without crediting Hixson — that helped to prompt his uncharacteristic Twitter eruption. He said an 85-year-old woman who has spent years working toward that goal deserved better.
Still, he conceded that Hogan’s strategy is effective.
“From a very cynical perspective, I have a lot of respect for his political team,” Luedtke said. “They do a really good job.”