Friday, January 30, 2015

Maryland's New Governor

Maryland got a new governor last week. One who promised to control spending, but to not touch social issues that are “decided law”. One who reached out to diverse constituencies, including supporters of the Port of Baltimore. What is interesting about Governor Larry Hogan, Jr. is his father, Larry Hogan, Sr. He represented the Maryland suburbs of Prince George’s (PG) County in a different era. In 1968, Maryland’s 5th Congress District elected Larry Hogan, Sr., and Richard Nixon, to office. His constituents were working-class whites who had participated in ‘white flight’ from Washington, DC. One could assume that his voters possessed an Archie Bunker mentality. Striking a chord with hard-hat residents, Nixon would win in 1972 with 58% of the vote. However, this did not carry into the Congressman’s politics. Just two years later, and with eloquent language, Larry Hogan, Sr. would become the only Republican congressman to vote for all three articles of impeachment against the disgraced President. In 1978, Larry Hogan ran for, and won, the job of PG County Executive. He would be the last Republican to hold the office in the rapidly diversifying county. Following his father’s footsteps in seeking office with a changing electorate, his son Larry Hogan, Jr. would run against Congressman Steny Hoyer (D) for his father’s old congressional seat in 1992. Perhaps some of the optimism came from the fallout of Willy Horton’s crimes against that PG County, Maryland couple. Though he fell short, he captured 45% of the vote, and won in 4 of the 5 counties represented by that seat. The exception was Prince George’s County. Maryland, like neighboring West Virginia, has strong Democratic registration advantage, by a margin of 2:1. These two places have the last vestiges of the conservative Democrat. Because of demographics, Maryland went from a Southern Democratic stronghold to a Northern, Liberal Democratic leadership without pausing for Republicans, who have not held control of either legislative chamber in a century. While Republicans are concentrated in rural and exurban parts of the State, dispersed conservative voters are a minority elsewhere. Because of this dispersion, Democrats hold 7 of 8 congressional seats today. Combined with enough moderate Democrats, dispersed conservatives can beat liberals in the Democratic primaries. When motivated to come out in statewide elections, these conservatives registered as Democrats often vote Republican, thus appearing as “crossover” votes. This was how Maryland remained a swing state in Presidential Elections from 1948 to 1988, and competitive in the next few Governor’s races. Fast forward through my childhood to 2010. After one-term Governor Robert Ehrlich failed to reclaim his seat in a Republican wave year, he pronounced that it was now practically impossible for a Republican to win a statewide race in Maryland. It seemed that the string of competitive gubernatorial races had ended. Enter Larry Hogan. After defeating office-holders in the Republican primary, he ran a campaign that avoided use of the “R” word in a state where Democrats held a 2:1 registration advantage. Looking to the challenges that former Republican governor Robert Ehrlich faced, he promised to “work with” Democrats to pass meaningful reform legislation that mattered to Marylanders. He would not be the veto machine that Ehrlich was. He campaigned on a simple slogan: “Change Maryland”. Each voter, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, knew what he or she wanted to be changed in Annapolis: Economic stagnation in suburban areas, Virginia eating Maryland’s lunch in terms of attracting businesses, slow progress on fracking rules, crony legislators, underrepresentation of minorities in the State Legislature, raiding of the highway trust fund, prohibition-era liquor laws. For enough voters, a vote for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown was a vote for the same old problems. But was Hogan, Jr. the wrong kind of change? He rolled with the punches on the social issues, and spoke carefully when he had to. On the surface, Maryland is a solidly blue state where it is possible to run with a socially conservative record. For example, in 2012, the gay marriage referendum passed with 52% of the vote. In a Presidential election year. Democratic opponent Anthony Brown brought out Larry Hogan Jr.’s position on abortion from 1981. Hogan, Jr. gave red meat to working-class religious voters in a state that had just recently allowed abortion-on-demand. It should have been the perfect trap. If Hogan came out as pro-choice in 2014, some religious voters would stay home. But Leroy Carhart was practicing his ‘art’ in Gaithersburg, and the protests drew media attention to incumbent Democratic Governor O’Malley’s lack of action in enforcing Maryland’s long-standing 24-week abortion limit. The culprit in the issue was not women looking for reproductive choice, but one white-haired old man in Gaithersburg. Without having to promise new abortion restrictions, Hogan, Jr. attracted the pro-life vote. On gun rights, Hogan, Jr. had submitted a survey to the NRA, where he earned an “A-“ rating. Hogan did not disclose the positions he took on the survey, but when the news broke, Maryland’s rural sportsmen, and self-defense, knew that Hogan was for them. And he did not have to come out publicly, say, in favor of high-capacity magazines. On election night 2014, Larry Hogan, Sr. wept tears of joy for his son. In his old age, with ailing knees, and without the sharp jaw line seen on the video of his Congressional testimony, he saw his son achieve what he himself did not do some 30 years ago: win a statewide race. Prince George’s County has a special place for the Hogan family. They are part of the past, a bygone era in white working-class politics. Hogan, Jr. is part of the future. Prince George’s county faces issues from crime, to transportation, to mediocre public schools. Shortly after his election, Larry Hogan, Jr. met with County Executive Rushern Baker, an African-American Democrat, to form a working partnership that transcended political talking points. Mr. Baker’s PG County is much different today than when Larry Hogan, Sr. won elections here. In 2010, just 19% of residents of PG County were white, and represented a spectrum of viewpoints: the progressive academic living next door to the University of Maryland, the rural families in the outskirts of the County who have little connection to the rest of the County, the working-class whites who never left, and the apolitical newcomers inhabiting affordable waterfront property. President Obama carried PG County with 89.73% of the total vote, and just under half of the County’s white vote. This past November, Larry Hogan, Jr. won 15% of the vote here. After all, he was seen as the candidate of rural and white suburban Maryland. Time will tell if Larry Hogan, Jr. gives PG County the attention of a caring County Executive by tackling Prince George’s issues with new approaches. Link to Larry Hogan Sr’s. Testimony on Richard Nixon’s Impeachment: