Hogan’s Strategy and New Terrain, Part I

Governor Larry Hogan’s action since his election point to one major goal: avoiding the fate of Bob Ehrlich by winning reelection in 2018. His strategy on these points seems relatively clear. However, the 2016 election results may upend his strategy. Today, I look at the path he has pursued so far.

Poll-Tested Popular Gestures
Hogan has become the master of making popular moves that, in the end, are nice gestures but do little to reshape state government in a meaningful way. His new mandate that schools begin after Labor Day is a perfect example of this approach.

No Meaningful Cuts in Taxes or Spending
If you look at the state budget as a whole, the difference between what Maryland has done under Gov. Hogan and would have done if Anthony Brown had been elected is small and focused on popular but very small cuts.

The reduction in tolls is a perfect example. People love it and see it but it’s practically a rounding error in the state budget. Hogan has much derided the “rain tax” but it’s a federal mandate and sending it back to the counties doesn’t make it disappear, so the impact on Marylanders is less than appears.

Taking Credit for O’Malley’s Hard Decisions
Gov. Martin O’Malley had the misfortune to govern during the horrendous Bush recession. While the budget will always need further work, he and the General Assembly made the tough deep cuts and righted the ship on pensions.

Most interestingly, O’Malley took the unpopular decision to raise the gas tax. So far, despite Hogan’s vehement attacks on it during the campaign, it’s still with us, and Hogan seems very happy to go around the state taking credit for roads and other projects it funds.

His Cancer Fight
I am sure that Gov. Hogan and his family wish deeply that he had never been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I am grateful, as are Marylanders, that he is making a great recovery. Indeed, he has been a fine example of the fight against a major illness. The publicity surrounding his brave fight has naturally engendered a great deal of sympathy.

One Downside: Touchy Persona
While Hogan generally presents a determined and happy face to the world, he doesn’t deal well with criticism. He can get petty and surprisingly touchy in response to it, lashing out negatively in response to even mild disagreements.

In short, Larry Hogan has presented a pleasing persona happy to do  small things in the wake of the frenetic O’Malley years and enjoy the benefits of previous hard decisions. This approach has resulted in high approval ratings. But will Trump’s election upend Hogan?