Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s political memoir, “Still Standing,” was published Tuesday. It’s a swift, 309-page recap of Hogan’s upbringing in Prince George’s County and his political and business career, which culminated in his becoming the second Republican governor in state history to win reelection.
Here are key takeaways.
A regular guy
Hogan’s father was a Georgetown University-educated congressman, and the future governor attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville.
But the governor takes great pains to portray his upbringing in Prince George’s as middle class, describing his Landover Knolls neighborhood as “solid, but a little rough around the edges.” He says that kids from his Catholic elementary school in Cheverly looked down on his neighborhood as “the other side of the tracks.”
DeMatha, he says, was less desirable than other Catholic schools, like Georgetown Preparatory High School in North Bethesda or Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.
Hogan did have jobs as a youngster, including newspaper delivery routes. He later worked at the former Ocean Playland Amusement Park in Ocean City. When his parents divorced midway through his high school years, Hogan moved with his mother to Florida and worked as a bellboy and a lifeguard.
He describes his real estate company as a “small business,” even though he made millions before going bankrupt in the early 1990s amid the savings-and-loan crisis. Hogan restarted his firm after the bankruptcy; his brother is running it while Hogan is in office, and it’s earned the governor millions.
A political memoir, emphasis on memoir
Hogan explains his positions with broad strokes: bipartisanship, helping the economy and avoiding potentially divisive issues such as gun ownership rights, abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage.
Several chapters are devoted to his response to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore in 2015, but the focus is on ending unrest in the city, not long-term strategies to resolve long-running urban problems.
He does describe his fight to repeal a requirement that large cities and counties impose a fee on properties to pay for cleaning up polluted stormwater runoff and his work on criminal justice reform.
But readers won’t find much about Hogan’s ideas on education, transportation or other key issues. He doesn’t mention pulling the plug on the Red Line, a proposed light rail line that many saw as a key to reviving Baltimore.
Instead, Hogan reworked and rebranded bus routes. Hogan describes his action this way: “I would greenlight a long-awaited overhaul of the Baltimore City transit system.”
In weighing his choice for president in 2016 (he ultimately wrote in his father’s name), Hogan writes that Democratic Hillary Clinton “was the last person who should be elected president,” but doesn’t explain why.
Hogan’s lack of support for Republican President Donald Trump is vague, based primarily on Trump’s divisiveness and lack of focus.
Trump, weighing on his mind
Like many Americans, Hogan initially dismissed Trump’s 2016 candidacy as a publicity stunt. Gradually, it became clear to Hogan that Trump would win. After months of queries by reporters, Hogan finally said he wouldn’t support Trump.
He resolved to avoid discussing Trump, never attack him personally and reserve his remarks for “something that’s just so offensive or that directly hurts the people of Maryland.” Hogan muses in his book that he might have earned a crude nickname from Trump, perhaps “Fat Larry.”
Trump and Hogan met for the first time at an event for governors at the White House in 2017. The governor was prepared for an onslaught, but was surprised to get “begrudging respect” from the president, who remarked on Hogan’s approval ratings. Future encounters between the two followed in the same fashion: brief and benign.
Still, Hogan worried Trump could tank his reelection in 2018.
“As we sought to continue the transformation of Maryland, the man in the White House hovered over my race like one of those mammoth floating Baby Trump balloons with the orange skin, tiny hands, full diaper and amber wave of mane,” Hogan writes.
“And Trump kept doubling down on the things that kept his popularity in Maryland so low. The divisive rhetoric. The unhinged tweets. The insults. The constant immigrant bashing. The stubborn embrace of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and other despots. Always trying to separate people instead of uniting them, as we’d been doing in Maryland.”
It’s no secret Hogan is friendly with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Hogan endorsed him in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and they’ve appeared at each other’s fundraisers. Christie gets plenty of ink, appearing on 20 pages.
In one story, Hogan gives Christie credit for helping put him over the top in the 2014 election. Christie then headed the Republican Governors Association, which was backing several gubernatorial candidates across the country — but not Hogan.
Hogan’s team pressed Christie repeatedly and Christie finally relented, seeing the race as possibly winnable. Christie decided to spend a $1.3 million RGA line of credit on ads for Hogan, but needed signoff from at least one other RGA executive committee board member. Christie got that approval from Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana and now vice president.
Hogan has frequently praised Pence’s role in handling the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s worth noting that Hogan’s co-author, Ellis Henican, also wrote a book with Christie.
Bipartisanship in blue Maryland
Hogan writes that as he first ran for governor, he understood he needed to sway Democrats and independents to win. He lays out how that succeeded, with a nod to his father, who used a similar strategy to win election to Congress multiple times.
But Hogan’s book is shy on later examples of bipartisanship. He writes that Democrats in the General Assembly did “everything they could to haze the new Republican governor” and describes how he went around them.
He lists the actions he can take without legislative approval, such as reducing tolls and issuing an executive order requiring the school year to start after Labor Day. (That order was later nullified by legislation from the General Assembly, which Hogan does not mention.)
Hogan gives an example of negotiations with the legislature, on a 2016 bill called the Justice Reinvestment Act. The bill made a host of reforms, including a clearer path to parole for elderly inmates, eliminating some mandatory minimum sentences and giving options for treatment instead of incarceration for low-level drug offenders.
But Hogan does not discuss the details of the negotiations nor mention the names of the lawmakers who pushed it forward. Instead, he notes he supported this type of reform before Trump.
Also on his mind: West Baltimore
Hogan spends five chapters recounting the aftermath of Gray’s death. They include claims without evidence provided, such as that Gray was a member of the Crips gang and that rival gangs hashed out a plan to split up pharmacies to loot.
Even after Hogan moves on, he returns repeatedly in his narrative to West Baltimore. He notes that a woman he befriended while being treated for cancer was from West Baltimore. He got a community activist from West Baltimore to film a TV ad for his reelection.
Hogan even touts that dogs adopted by his family and staff were rescued from West Baltimore. The two dogs that Hogan and his wife, Yumi, adopted “went from the streets of West Baltimore to the shelter to the governor’s mansion.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
Maryland changed, America united. Next?
Hogan writes that he decided not to run for president in 2020, but wanted to spread his message about bipartisanship and civility. So, he formed An America United in 2019, a group for “for people fed up with politics as usual.”
“The focus is fixing the broken politics and bringing people together to achieve bipartisan, common-sense solutions to the serious problems facing the nation,” he writes.
That sounds a lot like Change Maryland, the political organization that Hogan writes that he formed in 2011 as an alternative to stuffy think tanks. Change Maryland grew into an attack machine on then-Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. It provided a path for Hogan to gain visibility and run for governor in 2014.
So far, An America United’s public role has been to promote the book. The organization is receiving its profits.
Hogan isn’t saying what his next move might be after he finishes his second term as governor in January 2023. But he gives some hints in his closing paragraph:
“Those who believe our political system is too broken and can’t be fixed should look to us in Maryland. We have already shown a better path forward,” he wrote. “And if we can accomplish that here, then there is no place in the nation where these very same principles cannot succeed. They are the best hope America has.”