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Hogan in the Fight of His Life

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It’s no surprise that Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was fighting with liberal Democrats over his budget and tax reductions. But no one, including himself, imagined he would be fighting for his life in a battle against stage 3 lymphatic cancer.

For weeks, the political and business community had been anticipating a major announcement from Hogan, up or down, on the Purple Line. But as his family filed into the State House reception room on June 22, it was clear this announcement was not about mass transit.

As is typical with this tight-lipped administration, word had not leaked about the shocking news that the governor had a very virulent form of cancer that was eating him up from within. There had even been some misinformation about a bug he caught in Korea on a trade trip to Asia.

Five months to the day since he took office, Hogan was again confronted with the awful and unexpected, as he had been with the Baltimore riots in April. This time the disruption was more personal, and he confronted it in the same way: plain, direct, forceful and with considerably more humor than could be expected. The state of emergency, this time, was his own.

He lightened the scary announcement by joking he had “much, much better odds” at beating the big C than he had beating Anthony Brown last year.

Believing He Can Win

Hogan may have been one of the few people early on to actually believe he could defeat Brown. But having seen that resolve carry him on an improbable path to victory, defeating this disease seems less improbable. Outside medical experts agree that he has good shot at defeating the disease, especially since a later test found it had not spread to his bone marrow.

Even as Hogan spoke of this battle, and the 18 weeks of aggressive treatment it required, he stayed on political message. That message was missing on most of the TV clips since it sounds like a loop of his campaign speech, but he talked about the odds in this fight being better than the odds on repealing the rain tax, delivering tax relief, reining in state spending without tax increases or reducing tolls.

Given those odds, this guy does not expect to lose this fight. His Facebook posting after his first round of intense chemotherapy was: “Starting day 4 of 24-hour chemo treatment. Still feeling really strong. I think cancer picked the wrong fight! Will be out of the hospital and heading home tomorrow night! Feeling the love, support and prayers! It means the world to me and really helps keep me going!”

Other cancer survivors say that the positive attitude is important in the tough days ahead for Hogan.

Choosing Rutherford

Hogan’s decision to choose Boyd Rutherford as lieutenant governor looks even wiser than it did initially now, since he needs a good second-in-command to run the government when he is ill.

As secretary of the Department of General Services in the Ehrlich administration, Rutherford, a long-time Columbia resident, acquired a wide knowledge of state government and attended scores of meetings of the Board of Public Works that he will be chairing more often. Low-key, steady and less political, Rutherford seems a good complement to a governor always in a campaign mode.

Rutherford has already shown in two meetings he’s chaired that he is willing to challenge bureaucrats in the Hogan administration when he thinks they are spending too much. At the most recent board meeting, Rutherford lectured the Department of Natural Resources about its high land bids, the Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Human Services for budget “cushioning” — asking for millions more over more years, in case they underestimated costs — and shot down the Board of Elections’ request for $1.8 million for an information campaign on the new paper balloting to be used in next year’s election.

Hogan insists he will continue to work at running the government. Yes, he’ll lose his hair and lose some weight. It’s likely that on some days the governor will look like death warmed over. The happy warrior and energetic campaigner will not look very happy or energetic.

But he has promises to keep, and he made this last promise.

“I won’t just beat this disease. I’ll be a better and stronger person and governor when we get to the other side of it.”

If he does overcome the Big C, the big Ds of Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch won’t look so formidable.

Red Light for Red Line

Hogan’s red light for the $2.4 billion Red Line light-rail project in Baltimore and a cautious go ahead for the Purple Line in the D.C. ’burbs left many questions unanswered last week.

The yellow light on the Purple Line from Bethesda to New Carrollton was greeted warmly by some supporters. But other supporters, like House Speaker Michael Busch, wondered if the yes, accompanied by many changes in financing, was really a way to say no.

The state cut its contribution to the project from $700 million to $168 million — basically, the cost of one of the major interchanges Hogan has proposed to build. The cutback was achieved by cutting the frequency of trains from six minutes to seven-and-a-half minutes, which lowers the number of cars needed and the cost of the space to store them. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties also will be asked to cover more of the costs.

U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Potomac, a former financial services CEO, was more explicit about his doubts.

“What I fear is that the governor has implemented a process to derail the project, and derailed the billions in new investment in economic development and thousands of jobs it could create,” Delaney said in a statement.

“The stakeholders in this project deserve to see a detailed plan as to how this will be structured from a financial perspective, including effects on federal grants, expected contributions from the counties, and additional ongoing costs associated with shifting construction funding to private partners, if that is envisioned.”

Hogan and his transportation secretary offered none of that.

Killing the Red Line

All the Democrats in the Baltimore-heavy congressional delegation were upset at Hogan’s killing the Red Line. But while the business and political establishment were solidly behind the Red Line, there were more significant doubts raised in the community at large. Unscientific Internet polls in the Baltimore Business Journal and the Baltimore Sun indicated that the Hogan team urged supporters to take found majority support for Hogan’s decision.

The Purple Line has significantly more riders, a lower cost per mile, and connects with four metro stops and other transit hubs. The Red Line, with its expensive tunnel through downtown Baltimore, connected to very little, but the underused light rail line. There’s a potential 10-minute walk to the Baltimore subway from one station, and connections to two MARC commuter rail stations.

There is no question that Baltimore needs more mass transit, and is poorly served by the routinely late bus lines of the state-run Mass Transit Administration.

No Plan for Baltimore

What was conspicuously absent from Hogan’s announcement was any plan for Baltimore. In fact, a map distributed to reporters showing the highway projects to be built across the state left only a hole for Baltimore, as if it were all part of the Inner Harbor and the bay. (Baltimore City is responsible for a greater share of road projects because the state does not maintain roads in the city, which is given extra money to do so.)

In the aftermath of the Freddie Gray looting and demonstrations, Hogan pledged help for the city. “There’s no place in the state where we invest more money than Baltimore City,” Hogan said last week.

That money may or may not be well spent, but it certainly has not achieved its goals.

“I’m committed to promoting economic development to Baltimore, but the Red Line as currently proposed is not the best way to bring jobs and opportunity to the city,” said Hogan.

His commitment seemed sincere in the week he spent walking the streets of Baltimore after the Freddie Gray disturbance, but left unanswered is what that “best way” from the state might look like.

Whatever energy Hogan might have put into that effort must now be redirected to fighting his personal battle with cancer.