Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan came under fire Wednesday for his messaging pushing a “re-fund the police” proposal from one of the candidates hoping to succeed him as governor next year.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who is among about a dozen gubernatorial candidates in 2022, said Hogan has been “pouring gasoline on an already raging fire on our national political discourse” about policing.
Franchot used the twice-monthly, livestreamed meeting of the state Board of Public Works, on which he and Hogan serve together, to launch his criticism of the Republican governor. Hogan sat stone-faced as Franchot spoke.
Franchot said the challenges of improving policing and public safety are complex and “regardless of which party we affiliate with, all of us are interested in building safer communities.”
What doesn’t help, Franchot said, “is sending fundraising emails with the subject line ‘far-left lunacy’” or claiming that those who want more investment in social services and economic opportunities are “in favor of de-fund the police.”
Hogan has proposed a “re-fund the police” initiative, a $150 million plan to boost state spending on public safety — a combination of increases in grants to local police agencies, salaries for law enforcement officers at state agencies, body cameras and training for officers and rewards for tips that solve crimes.
The spending plan would need to be approved by state lawmakers, and Democratic leaders of the legislature have pushed back against the governor’s rhetoric but have not ruled out again increasing funding for law enforcement as part of budget negotiations next year.
Other candidates for governor also have weighed in, with Democrat Tom Perez calling Hogan’s plan “a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook” and Democrat John King saying Hogan “only cares about the political points he can score here, not actually preventing violence.” Democrat Rushern L. Baker III said it’s faulty thinking to assume “that we can police our way into a long-term solution for reducing crime.”
Republican candidate Kelly Schulz, who serves as Hogan’s commerce secretary, backed the plan: “Governor Hogan is right — Trying to reduce crime by defunding the police is dangerous, radical, and far-left lunacy,” she posted on Twitter.
Franchot said Hogan’s messaging on policing reform does more harm than good.
“It’s quite difficult, I think, for others to take part in the conversation when there’s a whole lot of finger-pointing and name calling,” Franchot said.
Franchot pointed out how budgets for the state police and corrections agencies, as well as grants to local police departments, have increased during Hogan’s tenure.
“I appreciate you pointing out all of our record funding in law enforcement and public safety over the past seven years,” Hogan replied. “I assume you’ll support our $150 million investment.”
Franchot shot back, rattling off a series of public safety budget cuts early in the pandemic that Hogan voted for.
“That was this administration’s recommendation,” he said.
Hogan retorted: “I’m not going to spend all day debating with you, but that was in the middle of a state of emergency, based on your false recommendations that we were going to have a $2.5 billion shortfall. We had to make cuts in every single agency ... We are now in a much different fiscal situation, so now we are not only restoring those funds but adding to it.”
After the several minutes of back-and-forth, Hogan, Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, the third member of the board, voted unanimously on the item before them: More than $500,000 in additional payments to a man wrongly convicted of armed robbery in the 1970s.
Leslie Vass spent nine years in prison for the conviction, and after he was released on parole, the sole witness recanted and he was pardoned.
The state paid Vass $250,000 in the 1980s, but under the Walter Lomax Act, approved this year, exonerees who already have been paid can apply for additional funds to bring them in line with new standards for compensating the wrongly convicted. Vass will receive about $557,000 in additional payments with Wednesday’s vote.