In the same BWI Airport Marriott ballroom a week apart in June, Gov. Larry Hogan gave speeches that were a preview of his reelection campaign next year.
First, Hogan touted his record to a packed house of close to 700 businesspeople for the annual luncheon of Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG), a group headed by Columbia marketing guru Duane Carey. The following week, Hogan addressed the not-quite-so-packed annual Red, White & Blue dinner for the state Republican Party (an event he has skipped a couple of times).
Democrats and pundits would argue that Hogan has actually been running for reelection for many months, with every public step calculated with an eye to 2018. They wouldn’t be far wrong in that assessment.
During Hogan’s speech to MBRG — an event he noted that drew much smaller crowds in the O’Malley years — he took credit for “one of the greatest economic turnarounds in the nation.
“We’re open for business,” Hogan said, the slogan he put on highway welcome signs the day he was sworn in.
Like the rest of the messaging, Hogan has repeated much of it many times before. He cited three balanced budgets in a row with no new taxes, along with some cuts in tax and fees, and a major rollback in tolls. New highway projects got underway and he provided record spending on education. (Some projects were possible because a cut in the gas tax he proposed got nowhere; the record school spending happens every year because of mandatory increases. But let’s not quibble.)
Like all governors and presidents, Hogan takes credit for improving the economy. He called it “an exciting economic resurgence” and cited rankings that moved Maryland up from the bottom of states in job growth to near the top. His communications staff provided the links to publications and studies to back up his assertions.
Plus, Maryland has “the second lowest percentage of people below the poverty line,” along with the highest median income in the nation, Hogan said. All true based on government data.
An eight-minute video prior to his GOP speech included poignant reminders of his battle with cancer in touching hospital scenes not seen before.
There was some exaggeration and stretches in his speeches. All were within the previously acceptable range for politicos before the master of hyperbole occuping the Oval Office had blown those standards off and made exaggeration and fake news part of our daily diet.
In neither speech did Hogan once mention President Donald Trump, even by inference. Had Hogan attended the Red, White and Blue dinner two years before, he could have heard Trump in person make one of his first campaign appearances, long before he was taken seriously by the Republican establishment.
Trump and his policies are the elephant in the room for Hogan that could undermine all his good news and high ratings in opinion polls. After months of prodding by Democrats and progressives to take a stand against Trump on the environment, immigration, budget cuts, the Paris climate agreement and you-name-it, Hogan finally issued a statement critical of the Senate version of repeal-and-replace for Obamacare.
“We know the current system needs to be fixed, but the proposals that are being considered in Congress do not work for Maryland,”’ said Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse. “Congress should go back to the drawing board in an open, transparent and bipartisan fashion to craft a bill that works for all Americans.”
Both the U.S. House and Senate versions of repeal-and-replace will produce major financial stress for the ballooning Medicaid program in Maryland. This health coverage plan for lower-income people enjoyed a major expansion through the Affordable Care Act.
But Hogan’s statement was far too mild for Democrats’ palates. They’ve been demanding that Hogan dish out some hot sauce.
Hot Sauce From Frosh
And hot sauce they got from Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh. He used the powers newly granted him by the legislature to sue President Trump, but not over the kind of public policy issues envisioned in legislative debate. With D.C.’s attorney general, Frosh filed suit on the very personal grounds that payment by foreign governments for services at the Trump International Hotel, which is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, in Washington, were a violation of the U.S. Constitution prohibiting such payments from foreigners.
Frosh justified Maryland’s right to file the suit by saying that Maryland hotels were being hurt by the business going to the Trump hotel, certainly a stretch.
Hogan has deliberately avoided any kind of personal attack on Trump, whom he had criticized during the campaign, but Frosh decided to poke him in the eye over the family business.
In a normal political environment, Hogan’s positive record and popularity might be enough to overcome his party affiliation; however, this is not a normal year. Democrats and independents are worried and scared about Trump, even though he’s not been able to get much of his program through Congress.
Preparing for 2018
Hogan is hardly the only candidate preparing for next year. In June, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced his long-expected reelection bid. There are now 10 candidates running for Howard County Council, since four of its five members must leave office due to term limits.
There is already a Republican primary race in District 5, the safely Republican western Howard County district, now represented by term-limited Greg Fox. Besides Realtor David Yungman (mentioned here last month), they are Keith Ohlinger and long-time Republican activist Jim Walsh, a lawyer.
There will be a Democratic primary in District 4, the West Columbia district now represented by Mary Kay Sigaty. Democrats Deb Jung and Register of Wills Byron Macfarlane have both filed, as has Republican Lisa Kim. Republican Raj Kathuria hopes to knock off Democrat County Council Chair Jon Weinstein in District 1.
In District 2, now represented by the departing Calvin Ball, Republican John Liao has filed his candidacy and Democrat Opel Jones is running. Democrat Christiana Rigby has filed to run for the District 3 seat, now held by Jen Terrasa.
While Democrat Ball is looking at challenging Kittleman, the options to run for legislature became more limited when all four Democratic incumbents in legislative District 13 filed for reelection together, as a team, last month. They are Sen. Guy Guzzone, who had his annual pizza party last month; and Dels. Vanessa Atterbeary, Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner. Pendergrass is now chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee and Turner is vice chair of Ways & Means.
In District 12, Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, says he plans on seeking reelection. There is no sign that the three freshman delegates in District 12 won’t do the same.
Media business owner Dan Medinger, president of the Ellicott City Western Howard Democratic Club, has filed to run for delegate in District 9B, now represented by Republican Del. Bob Flanagan. Medinger lost the Democratic primary in 2014 for the Senate seat now held by Republican Gail Bates.
Salazar to Regulate
Gov. Hogan has named Tony Salazar, an attorney with the well-connected firm of Davis, Agnor, Rapaport & Skalny, as Maryland’s commissioner of financial regulation. Salazar served for 18 years as deputy general counsel of Provident Bank, a large regional mid-Atlantic bank that was based in Baltimore. He started his banking career as an enforcement attorney with office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Salazar had the political bug for a while, running as a Republican for Congress against Rep. Elijah Cummings in 2004. He also ran for County Council in 2006, losing to Democrat Courtney Watson in District 1.