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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hogan May Have Stumbled, But State Democrats Fell Flat

Newly elected governor Larry Hogan delivered his first State of the State address this week and though he started off on the wrong foot he planted a firm landing. Hogan opened his speech be repeating much of his campaign rhetoric concerning the weak state of Maryland's economy. I believe he got some bad advice. He should've opened by saying the election was over, the time for assigning blame passed, and time to work together at hand. Instead, he told an Assembly full of Democrats that they had horribly mismanaged the state and he was there to fix their mess. That's an odd strategy considering that Hogan can't accomplish any of his broader agenda without the support of some Assembly Democrats. But once Hogan transitioned to his 11 point plan he recovered quickly and closed strong.

Even though I think Larry Hogan erred a bit in his speech, the Democrats' reaction has been downright ridiculous and really shows how coddled the establishment has been in this state. In reality, Hogan offered a pretty modest and moderate agenda - no automatic gas tax increases, a small personal property tax exemption for small businesses, a repeal of the so-called Rain Tax (keep in mind that the Total Maximum Daily Load mandate from the EPA applied to Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. But only Maryland implemented a tax to comply. So other approaches do exist), restrained growth in the rate of funding increases, renewed support for public financing of gubernatorial elections, and a fair redistricting process. There is nothing radical, ridiculous, our unreasonable in this agenda.

But state Democrats reacted as if Hogan had offered right wing, fire and brimstone red meat. Democratic Senator James Rosapepe suggested the speech represented a mix of Republican and Tea Party appeals. I'm sorry, but if Hogan wanted to appeal to the Tea Party, he would've delivered a far different speech. In reality, Hogan's speech was a reasonable response to the 2014 election results that saw the election of only the 2nd Republican governor in 4 decades and included record gains for Republicans elsewhere in the state (and if MD had a non-partisan redistricting process the GOP gains would've been even greater). It's a sad commentary that to some state Democrats moderation and pragmatism is equated with Tea Party extremism.

Unfortunately, too many Assembly Democrats had become accustomed to having a fellow partisan come before them, heap praise upon all they were doing, and tell them to keep up the good work. Voters sent a different message last November (only a fool would blame Anthony Brown for the outcome). The days of praise are over (for at least the next 4 years). Hogan's speech offered a rude awakening to many in the Democratic establishment and their reactions suggest that many had still not come to grips with the outcome of the election. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Anne Kaiser's Democratic response was a tone deaf bit of fluff that should have been backed by a choir of Democratic Assembly members singing "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie. If voters agreed with Kaiser's take on the state of the state then Anthony Brown would've delivered the State of the State address and not Larry Hogan.

In the end, Hogan's speech, the official Democratic response, and the reaction of establishment Democrats tell us that Hogan understands the results of the 2014 election, but that many Democrats still don't. I mean who could sit stone faced and silent in response to a call for fair redistricting reform? Turns out the answer is nearly every Democratic member of the General Assembly. Hogan may have stumbled a bit out of the gate, but it was establishment Democrats who fell flat in the end. Yes, Hogan needs the support of Assembly Democrats to accomplish many elements of his agenda, but in a state where the governor essentially dictates the budget and wields a veto pen, Assembly Democrats may need him more.