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Hogan, Franchot see their bipartisan friendship as a model

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan listens as Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot describes their bipartisan friendship and partnership. They appeared together Friday during a panel discussion sponsored by the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce and Bethesda Magazine.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan listens as Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot describes their bipartisan friendship and partnership. They appeared together Friday during a panel discussion sponsored by the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce and Bethesda Magazine. (Erin Cox / Baltimore Sun)

What's been dubbed the "Maryland bromance" between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot is on public display twice a month at meetings of the Board of Public Works, but they usually don't discuss it directly.

"I can promise you we talk about gardening," Franchot said Friday, describing the pair's occasional dinners. "We talk about our kids. We talk about art. And we do not talk about politics."

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Hogan interjected with a playful correction. "I don't really talk much about gardening," he said.

Franchot brought up the friendship as the pair shared a stage on his home turf of Montgomery County. He told the crowd, gathered for their discussion and a breakfast hosted by the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce, that he hoped his bipartisan friendship with a Republican would be a model for transcending today's divisive political climate.

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"Frankly, I think it's unique in the country," Franchot said. "Maybe, governor, we should go on the road?"

For his part, Hogan heaped praise on Franchot for his role on the three-member Board of Public Works, the panel that oversees billions in state spending and where the two have formed a political alliance and a friendly rapport.

The cozy relationship is politically expedient for both men.

Franchot acknowledges he is at odds with Democrats who run the General Assembly. And Hogan, whose party makes up less than 30 percent of Maryland voters, said he needs the help of Democrats and independents to get anything done.

Hogan's approval rating in recent polls exceeds 70 percent. His alliance with Franchot is a cornerstone of the governor's pitch that he works across the aisle, even though he's frequently at loggerheads with the leadership of the legislature.

"I really believe that the people in Maryland and people in America are completely frustrated with politics," Hogan said. "They're mad at Republicans. They're mad at Democrats. They've lost faith in the system, and they hate the partisanship and name-calling and the finger-pointing."

People in the state "wish that Democrats and Republicans could actually reach across the aisle and come up with real, bipartisan, common-sense solutions," he said. "That's what we're actually doing together here in Maryland."

Hogan and Franchot have teamed up to chastise state agencies that ask the board to approve contracts for which a single company has bid. Franchot said Friday they've reduced the number of such contracts by 67 percent.

The pair tried to use the bully pulpit at the Board of Public Works to persuade Democratic Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is considering a run for governor, to more quickly install air conditioning in county schools. When that didn't work, Franchot and Hogan voted to withhold state funding until he complied.

They also joined forces to require Maryland schools to start after Labor Day, long a signature issue for the comptroller. When Hogan was asked Friday to respond to criticism about it, Franchot interrupted to come to the governor's defense.

"Can I just jump in?" Franchot asked the moderator of the discussion. "Because I feel kind of bad. I'm the one who took this issue to the governor and asked him to go ahead and promulgate the executive order."

"No one's complaining about you!" Hogan said.

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Hogan and Franchot bantered over policy and insisted they don't always see eye to eye, but when pressed by reporters afterward, there was little disagreement between them.

Franchot said Hogan wanted bigger tax cuts than he does, because the comptroller believes there isn't enough revenue to support them. Hogan said significant tax cuts aren't practical right now given the fiscal climate.

It wasn't until this past summer — about 18 months after the governor took office — that Hogan and Franchot voted differently on a proposed contract award. At the time, Hogan joked that now Franchot could tell fellow Democrats they weren't in lockstep.

Franchot's alliance with Hogan has drawn the ire of Annapolis Democrats, who question why he's supporting a popular Republican governor instead of members of his own party.

Franchot publicly acknowledged the rift Friday. He said jokingly that when Hogan recently asked what he could do to help, the comptroller responded, "Governor, keep your distance."

The comptroller said he decided to "form a strategic partnership" with Hogan after other leading Democrats rebuffed his suggestion to look into why so many Democrats voted for Hogan in the governor's upset win in 2014.

He suggested other Democrats spend less energy focusing on turnout and more on tailoring their message to recapture Democratic votes that went to Hogan.

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