By Barry Rascovar
April 14, 2015 — In his stubbornly conservative and highly politicized approach to governing Annapolis over the past week, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. took a step that may seal his fate as a one-term governor.
Let’s see: In just a few days Hogan managed to alienate and infuriate state workers, public school teachers and education advocates, disability workers, supporters of medical assistance for poor pregnant women and doctors who treat Medicaid patients.
He also left a trail of non-accomplishments.
Hogan’s refusal to follow-through on a final budget accord and instead turn the issue into a political football left Democratic legislators resentful and itching to show they can play hardball, too.
For someone who entered the governor’s mansion as Mr. Nice Guy cooing bipartisanship, Hogan ended his inaugural legislative session as Mr. Tough Guy defiantly declaring great success for what was clearly a disappointing 90-day performance.
Seeds for a Pushback
His flimsy legislative agenda got shredded. He turned victory on the state budget into an easily avoidable defeat.
He sowed the seeds for a strong Democratic pushback that could make Hogan’s legislative life miserable over the next three years.
The Republican governor’s inexperience showed.
He let hard-line ideologues on his staff get their way. Democrats reacted by tying his hands in future years on making budget cuts to education. They blocked him at nearly every turn.
Teacher layoffs that are sure to follow from Hogan’s budget-cutting actions will haunt him. He has awakened a key element of the Democratic Party’s base. Teachers and public school parents in core Democratic jurisdictions will neither forgive nor forget.
Pay Cut Coming
He also made enemies of 80,000 state workers by cutting their paychecks 2 percent, starting in July.
He still has a chance to spend the money set aside by the legislature for those two groups but that would require political accommodations Hogan doesn’t seem willing to make.
The irony is that Hogan had a golden opportunity to negotiate a budget giving him much of what he wanted without enraging large voting groups.
Indeed, Democratic negotiators thought it was a done deal — until Hogan made intentionally unacceptable demands at the last moment.
The new governor showed his naiveté and lack of insight into Maryland’s complex legislative process. His hard-nosed, conservative roots were showing.
His biggest mistake: Failing to accept the divided nature of governance in Maryland. Election as governor does not entitle Republican Hogan to rule the land in an imperial, “I’m the boss” manner.
Democrats firmly control the General Assembly. They are co-rulers. They make the laws, set policy and sit in judgment on the governor’s budget.
Hogan can’t demand obeisance to his legislative wishes. He can’t insist Democrats support a decidedly Republican agenda. Yet that’s what he tried to do in the final week before Monday’s sine die adjournment.
Picking up the pieces won’t be easy for the governor.
He did, though, take a major step toward truly balancing the state’s budget. Simply by trimming government spending in the next few years, identifying areas where money can be saved without significantly impacting services and keeping expenditures lower than Maryland’s growth rate, Hogan can tame the state’s structural deficit demon.
But don’t expect savings large enough to support major tax cuts. Even if that were to happen, Democrats in Annapolis would write laws that re-direct this surplus in ways more appealing to their constituents in Maryland’s big, Democratic subdivisions.
Hogan gets the next nine months to operate without legislative interference. He’ll have time to assess his next moves and prepare more carefully for the 2016 General Assembly session.
Will he seek to re-build bridges to Democratic lawmakers on issues of mutual concern?
Or will he continue to take the path of political opportunism that makes governing impossibly difficult in the Maryland State House?