Evaluating outcomes of legislative sessions, particularly when the Democrats control the General Assembly the Republicans the Governor’s Mansion, often devolves into rating winners and losers. Though there were the inevitable clashes on policy and rhetoric, it was also a productive session.
The sour note finish on the budget, however, was a perplexing surprise in light of the initial bipartisan budget compromise that saw strong support from both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan comity unraveled towards the end of the session.
Though Gov. Hogan’s staff had been highly involved in the budget negotiations that led to the brief budgetary Era of Good Feelings, he decided to insist on adding another $75 million to the pension fund after the compromise was reached.
The Governor’s reinsertion of this demand after agreement had been reached will harm future negotiations with the legislature. It reduces legislative trust that he will adhere to deals and makes legislators wonder if he really prefers an argument to policy accomplishments.
The new attempt at negotiations after the pension demand reemerged also flopped. My colleague, Todd Eberly, largely blames the Democrats for not taking Hogan’s offer to partly reach their goals on education, health and COLAs for government employees in exchange of hewing to his demands on pensions.
While certainly a reasonable enough viewpoint, Hogan’s demands went well beyond pension funds to include passage of virtually all of his other bills. Negotiations in which the Governor expected the whole menu for only partial budgetary concessions were not likely to succeed.
There are further reasons for this failure. Gov. Hogan and his team did not lobby rank-and-file legislators nearly as aggressively as Gov. O’Malley during the legislative session. The lack of contact felt Jimmy Carter-like at times. His staffers need to work not just with legislative leaders but other legislators to advance their bills. President Miller and Speaker Busch are important but they are not the whole General Assembly.
The light lobbying touch may also be a symptom that Gov. Hogan believes that the General Assembly rolled over for Gov. O’Malley and so they should do the same for him. Except that many Democrats often fought with O’Malley and he had to fight very hard to get his priorities from gambling to same-sex marriage passed.
No doubt there is a learning curve for every new governor. While Gov. Hogan was the Appointments Secretary for Gov. Ehrlich, he has less experience in dealing with the General Assembly. His first session was hardly a failure. But whether his second session goes better will depend not just on Democrats but on him.