At the traditional end-of-session big buffet breakfast for guests of the Historic Inns of Annapolis across from the State House, a Prince George’s County delegate was about to leave the table, just hours after the last legislative session of a four-year term adjourned at midnight.
“Seventy-seven days,” he said. “But who’s counting?” was the response, knowing he was talking about the June 26 primary election.
There are still hundreds of bills to be signed or vetoed, but most legislators have switched to full campaign mode; some of them would argue that Gov. Larry Hogan has never gotten out of campaign mode.
This most recent session was decidedly different from Hogan’s first three. The Republican governor and staff took a more cooperative approach with the Democratic lawmakers.
Hogan won this legislative session by not losing too much and not giving Democrats ammunition against his reelection campaign. Hogan also won with success on issues where he collaborated more than usual with Democrats, and by choosing to fight them, and lose, only on issues where he held the high ground.
Many legislators in both parties also won with bills large and small they can take home in this election year. In a record, 3,127 bills and joint resolutions were introduced and 890 bills (or 28%) were passed; more than 250 have already become laws.
At the first post-session signing ceremony, Hogan continued to tout bipartisan cooperation and the contrast with Washington inaction, a theme he plans to carry through his reelection campaign in heavily Democratic Maryland.
“The success of our legislative session shows that, unlike the partisan gridlock we see in Washington, here in Annapolis we work together in a common sense, bipartisan way to get things done,” Hogan said.
Every time the legislature would hold a hearing on an administration bill — or even a Democrat-sponsored bill with which Hogan agreed — they would issue a “Bipartisanship Alert,” which was a press release with flashing lights.
Health Insurance: There was true bipartisan cooperation on a bill to stabilize admittedly high health insurance rates for 150,000 people under Obamacare.
“This problem should have been solved in Washington, but nothing has been done,” Hogan said. “Our team has been working on potential solutions for more than a year, and I want to sincerely thank the speaker, the Senate president, and legislators from both sides of the aisle for working together with us in a common sense, bipartisan manner to address this crisis head-on and to prevent these massive rate increases.”
Howard County Del. Shane Pendergrass, chair of the Health and Government Operations, would argue that it was her committee that did the heavy lifting on the bill. But everyone shared the glory.
As was fairly typical this session, Senate Republicans had Hogan’s back on this issue. House Republicans didn’t get the memo on the bipartisanship for a bill that applied a one-time $380 million tax on health insurers to prop up the remains of Obamacare. Howard County Republican Del. Bob Flanagan was the rare Republican who voted for the measure, while Republican Dels. Trent Kittleman and Warren Miller opposed it.
• Transit: There was similar bipartisan cooperation on dedicated funding for the Washington Metro system. Two Montgomery County Democrats took the lead, but Hogan worked hard to persuade D.C. and Virginia to go along with $167 million each for a permanent fix for the ailing Metro system. This, and Hogan’s advance of the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs, help undercut the lingering complaints of Baltimore region officials about Hogan’s killing the east-west Red Line in Baltimore.
Again, a majority of Republicans in the House, which has a more severe partisan divide, didn’t get the memo, and voted against the bill. Again, only Flanagan, a former transportation secretary, was the rare Republican delegate who voted for it. Senate Republicans supported it unanimously.
• Amazon: There couldn’t be anything much more bipartisan than the passage of the Amazon PRIME Act, the bill providing at least $5.6 billion in tax incentives, plus road and transit improvements, to attract Amazon’s East Coast headquarters to Montgomery County.
All but one of Montgomery’s 24 liberal legislators supported Hogan’s bill. The vote in the House had progressives from other areas of the state joining with Republican conservatives in opposition to what was considered a giveaway to the wealthiest man on Earth, Jeff Bezos. All of Howard County’s mostly progressive Democratic delegates voted against the bill, as did conservative Republican Del. Warren Miller; Flanagan and Kittleman supported it. In the Senate, all three of Howard County’s senators — Republican Gail Bates and Democrats Ed Kasemeyer and Guy Guzzone — supported it.
• Environment: Last year, Democrats repeatedly tried to link Hogan to President Trump, with declining success. There was less of such talk this year as Hogan worked to shore up Obamacare and fund transit. But nowhere was the contrast between the allegedly Republican president and the Republican governor more apparent than the environment.
Hogan continues to get surprising praise from some environmental groups as he fought Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency for continued funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and ban offshore oil drilling. The Democratic congressional delegation, of course, played a major role. Hogan Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles shares the praise from environmentalists.
Only Hogan’s refusal to completely block another gas pipeline stirred up some of the most adamant environmentalists, leading some green grandmothers to block the State House doors and engineer their own arrest.
• School Safety: Legislators from both parties and Hogan were in a bidding war to do everything they could do to make schools safer from shooting incidents. As with many other issues — cybersecurity, taxes on pensions, septic systems — Hogan’s own bill did not pass, but provisions of his legislation were added to other bills.
The same thing happened on legislation to crack down on repeat violent offenders and relieve some of the violence in Baltimore. The House and the Senate went back and forth, and Hogan declared victory.
The Hogan administration introduced 31 pieces of legislation, his most ambitious legislative package of the four-year term. Only a handful passed with his name on it, but the governor said he doesn’t care about that, as long as things get done and issues get handled.
But many of the issues he lost are also popular with voters, if not the most important issues like jobs, education, taxes and roads.
• Without His Signature: Hogan chose not fight the legislature over several bills that the public employees unions wanted and a bill providing for automatic voter registration. More than any recent governor, Hogan has made use of a constitutional provision that allows a bill to become law without his signature, signaling he doesn’t like the bill, but chooses not to fight about it. He has used this on scores of measures this four-year term.
It will be curious to see what he does now that the legislature has no chance of overriding any veto in this election year — except in the unlikely event of a special session, which Hogan definitely will not call.
• School Spending, Corruption: Hogan had several bills to achieve greater accountability for school spending, including the idea of a statewide inspector general. The bills did not pass, but Hogan used them as reminders of corruption and mismanagement, particularly in the school systems of Baltimore and Prince George’s counties, which happen to be the home counties of Hogan’s most prominent Democratic challengers.
It was hard not to be reminded of Democratic corruption as State Sen. Nathaniel Oaks of Baltimore hung around under indictment and ultimately pled guilty to federal charges of corrupt use of his legislative power.
• School Construction: When the legislature sought to strip the power of the Board of Public Works (which Hogan chairs) from its oversight of school construction dollars, he pounded away at the idea of potential corruption in the new process. That seemed a bit exaggerated for a commission on which two of his cabinet secretaries and the state school superintendent will serve, but no matter; the point was made repeatedly.
Democratic legislators presented the bill as a major reform of the process and a necessary hike in school funding — although Hogan was already hitting the new $400 million target this year. Hogan knew he was going to lose this argument and have his veto overridden, but he insisted that the bill — most of which he supported — was the worst legislation this year.
• Taxes: At the beginning of the session, Democrats and Hogan committed to holding Maryland taxpayers harmless from tax increases on their state returns triggered by the changes in federal laws that cut income taxes for most people and corporations. In the end, the legislators chose to keep most of the money — though not spend it this year. They found Hogan’s plan would have actually cut state income taxes for some people, and cut state revenues.
Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, retiring chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, and the Senate wanted to provide more relief, but House leaders refused to go along.
So yet again, Hogan, who campaigned in 2014 on rolling back taxes, had a tax cut, but was rebuffed by Democratic lawmakers. Some retirees and low-income people will see new tax credits, but Hogan’s loss on this issue is yet another political talking point for his reelection campaign.
• Paid Sick Leave: How could anyone forget paid sick leave? At the start of the session, the legislature easily overrode Hogan’s veto of a law forcing most small businesses to offer paid sick leave, even for part-time employees. Hogan had offered his own plan of tax subsidies for sick leave that would have covered fewer workers. That plan went nowhere, as did an attempt to delay implementation of the new law. But legislators did pass Hogan’s bill to subsidize businesses with fewer than 15 employees who had not offered sick leave before.
All in all, six months away from the general election, polling has shown Hogan remains popular with voters and the session did nothing to change that. None of his nine Democratic opponents have caught fire.
However, know this: Six months is a very long time in an election campaign.