By Barry Rascovar
Jan. 21, 2015 — At least for a brief moment, Gov. Larry Hogan Jr.’s Era of Good Feeling ruled Annapolis.
We’ll soon learn if his strong message of bipartisan harmony and mutual respect can survive the harsh reality of Hogan’s first, greatly diminished budget, which he’ll release Thursday.
Hogan’s inaugural, with snow flakes falling faster and faster as the event progressed, struck all the right chords.
“Dignity, respect and camaraderie” is what we expect from our public servants, said Jim Brady, who presided over the outdoor ceremonies on the State House steps and also ran Hogan’s transition team.
“Focus on things that unite us” and “work across party lines,” was how Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford put it.
“Compromise and consensus are not dirty words,” emphasized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who introduced the new Maryland governor and championed Hogan’s election.
“A rebirth of our spirit and common purposes,” is how the 62nd governor of the Free State expressed it. No more “wedge politics and petty rhetoric.” A “new beginning.” A “sense of optimism.” “Limitless possibilities.” “An environment of trust and cooperation” where ideas are acted upon “based on merit.”
All the right words. It was a typical inaugural, full of positives and good wishes.
Hogan came across as he always does: a down-to-earth fellow who wants to run government with the focus on efficiency and effectiveness, not political ideology. He repeatedly used the term “common sense” to describe how he will govern.
He quoted a Democrat (John F. Kennedy) and a Republican (Abraham Lincoln) to stress the need for a new approach in political Annapolis that sets aside differences and finds “middle ground.”
A Little Red Meat
There were a few digs sprinkled among the words of comity, especially when Hogan spoke of “rebuilding the forgotten middle class” and getting government “off our backs and out of our pockets” — red-meat Republican applause lines straight from his campaign monologue.
Once the celebrations are over late tonight, the real work begins. It won’t be pretty and it won’t be met with unified applause.
Hogan promised to set Maryland on a different course, one that re-shapes the bloated state budget in ways Democrats are likely to resist.
There is growing agreement even on the Democratic side that Maryland has been living beyond its means, that spending on programs is expanding faster than the tax receipts coming in.
But will lawmakers stand by idly as cuts are made to education and health care? Are they willing to forego mass transit lines? These are the kinds of questions intentionally left out of inaugural speeches.
Putting Maryland on a more sustainable fiscal footing is an admirable goal that could help Hogan meet his pledge to lower taxes. Yet it will be difficult to achieve in the short term and possibly even in the long term unless Hogan gets a boost from the national economy.
On another front, Hogan can take early, unilateral steps to cut red-tape and bureaucratic regulations. It’s been needed for a long time. The push-back from special interests could be intense, though.
For a day, Larry Hogan’s vision of a less partisan, more practical state government in Annapolis held sway.
His unfailing optimism and ability to search for areas of agreement are his greatest assets. He’s taking a more accommodating track than Maryland’s last Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich.
So far, Hogan is off to a cheery and encouraging start.