Boss Hög: Larry Hogan has Baltimore right where he wants it

Larry Hogan gave two press conferences during the week of June 22. At the first, on June 22, Hogan bravely announced that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer. Standing beside his wife, children, and grandchild, he acknowledged that the cancer was “very aggressive and very advanced” and said he would begin chemotherapy treatments in days but that he has every reason to be optimistic, even joking, “my odds of. . . beating this are much, much better than the odds I had at beating Anthony Brown.” He handled what was obviously a tremendously difficult discovery about as well as anyone could have and rightfully earned the admiration of virtually everyone in the state, even those who had opposed him since he announced his intention to run for governor.

It didn’t last.

Three days later, Hogan appeared at the same statehouse lectern, this time with a lime-green ribbon—to raise awareness of non-Hodgkins lymphoma—pinned to his lapel. He was there to announce his transportation priorities for the year, which included paying $168 million to build the Purple Line to serve the wealthy Washington, D.C. suburbs, where Hogan grew up. Meanwhile, he declared that the Red Line, which would primarily serve lower-income parts of Baltimore, was “dead,” and dismissed it as a “boondoggle.” This despite the fact that millions have already gone into planning the east-west rail line—not to mention endless debates and compromises about the plan—and that $900 million in federal funds had already been earmarked for the project, funds that will now presumably go to some other city’s vast improvement.

In killing the Red Line, which got its start under Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening and was developed under Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich,* Hogan killed the city’s hopes for new jobs and neighborhood development along the 19 proposed stops, as well as vastly improved public transit. He proposed no alternatives, leaving the city stuck in the same old traffic jam with the same old scars from failed transportation projects past (Highway to Nowhere, anyone?). Hogan’s Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn—who Hogan described as “the best highway builder in the entire country” and has little experience with public transit—said the “fatal flaw” of the Red Line was the cost to build a tunnel under downtown Baltimore, which is estimated to be a billion dollars.

But as former Sun reporter Barry Rascovar pointed out in a scathing editorial on his blog, Political Maryland, “Anything built on the surface would compound downtown gridlock and make a joke of Red Line time savings. Sure, tunneling is very expensive but not if you take into consideration that it will be serving Baltimoreans a century from now. By Hogan’s and Rahn’s thinking, all of the Washington Metro’s downtown subterranean rail network is a gigantic boondoggle. So is New York City’s subway. And London’s, too.”

Hogan also announced $1.9 billion in highway spending at the press conference, with improvements in every Maryland county, but none in Baltimore City. When a reporter asked if any transportation spending would go to Baltimore, Hogan looked curiously at Rahn, as if this was a question he hadn’t considered, before replying, “not that I know of.”

To defend himself for leaving Baltimore out of the $2 billion spending plan, Hogan cited other recent expenditures.

“There’s no place in the state where we invest more money than Baltimore City,” Hogan said, seemingly exasperated at the question. “Last week I just announced $7.3 million extra funding for the city. We just spent $14 million extra money on the riots in Baltimore City a few weeks ago.” As if these relative pennies could counteract the deeply rooted issues behind the Baltimore Uprising the way a long-overdue functional system of public transportation could.

After the press conference, Hogan tweeted—then quickly deleted—a state map detailing the administration’s plans, but Baltimore City was missing entirely, as if it had quietly slid into the Chesapeake Bay, as Gov. Hogan seemed to hope it would.

No matter how one feels about the Red Line in particular, canceling it without an alternative and leaving Baltimore completely off the map of nearly $2 billion of new transportation projects is a sign that the city’s in for a rough four years that will affect us for generations.

Unfortunately, killing the Red Line is only the latest in a series of moves Hogan has made since taking office that have us worried.

Immediately after Hogan was inaugurated, road signs welcoming folks to Maryland quietly changed from “Enjoy Your Visit” to “We’re Open For Business.” Given his latest choices, it is clear that some parts of the state—the concrete and asphalt industries among them—are open for business, but some of us are just getting screwed.

Baltimore schools among those getting the business. Hogan’s budget increased funding by 0.4 percent, sure, but over half the counties in Maryland faced 1-2 percent declines, with Baltimore City facing a 3.3 percent decrease, or $41 million. Baltimore City schools still face graduation rates more than 10 percent below the state average, and cutting funds to these schools most in need was a real kick in the gut. And when Baltimore City has more homeless school kids needing services than the entire student population of Kent County, Hogan’s really kicking us while we’re down. Meanwhile, tuition rates went up at all public colleges and universities, while tax deductions for donations to private schools went up.

Hogan authorized $30 million to build a new youth jail in Baltimore days after he announced cuts to fees on the Bay Bridge, declaring, “your summer vacation just got cheaper.” He also reallocated $2 million earmarked for an Annapolis arts center to reopen state police barracks, and vetoed bills that would have restored the right to vote to people on parole, decriminalized possession of pot-related paraphernalia, and put limits on government power to seize property and money.

In short, Hogan’s priorities seem to favor businesses over people, suburbs over cities, rich over poor, private over public, and state power over personal freedom. Looking forward to another legislative session, we best figure out who this Boss Hög is and how to work with—or around—him.

 

Hogan was elected in a surprise, beating out Anthony Brown and upstart Heather Mizeur in a campaign that struck familiar notes. Hogan was the outsider candidate, the guy who had never held elected office, the businessman who would bring all the efficiency and cost savings from private enterprise to public life. He was a man of integrity that was a birthright: His father, then a representative from Maryland’s 5th District, was the first Republican representative to vote for President Nixon’s impeachment, teaching young Hogan a lesson that would shape his nonpartisan approach to political work. “Larry Hogan,” his website argued, “is not a career politician. He is a small businessman, a concerned citizen, and a lifelong Marylander who loves this state.”

It’s a familiar pitch, especially from candidates running against incumbents, which Anthony Brown seemed to think he already was, and yet it was more than a little disingenuous. Hogan grew up in politics—when your dad’s voting on Nixon’s impeachment, one might suggest politics is your birthright—and he’d done some time on the “inside,” working as Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s State Cabinet Secretary from 2003 to 2007. And that small business? Well, The Hogan Companies is a multi-billion-dollar real estate and development firm—not exactly a mom-and-pop shop.**

Did Marylanders elect the nonpartisan team-working outsider with a heart for business and its trickle-down possibilities, or did we elect the insider with his own agenda, another bait-and-switch to politics as usual? Or has the first six months of Boss Hög’s rule shown us someone else entirely, a governor on his own path, breaking all the rules as he shoves his own in place?

Gov. Hogan’s first weeks in office showed him to be a bit of a bull in a china shop. It is normal for departing governors to push a few final agenda items through on their way out the doors and for incoming governors to put a hold on those for reflection before taking them on as law, but Hogan did things a little differently.

Arguing that he wanted time to look over everything O’Malley passed in his waning days of office, Hogan withheld approval for two major environmental regulations—regulations on the amount of chicken manure that could be spread on Eastern Shore farms and new regulations on coal-burning power plants—as well as several new protections for the LGBT+ community, including mandates to extend reproductive health care and Medicaid to people regardless of sexual identity. Turns out you can’t just hold up bills because you don’t like them, so Hogan pulled a rare move: Because all new regulations must be published in the Maryland Register for two weeks in order to become law, he simply refused to have them printed.

Some saw it as Hogan just following precedent in allowing his administration to review O’Malley’s final moves in office—and indeed, some of the measures went into effect without Hogan’s signature. The LGBT+ health regulations, for example, became law. Asked for comment prior to her departure from Equality Maryland, then-Director Carrie Evans said the group had had little contact with Hogan’s office as grassroots efforts to preserve O’Malley’s regulations did their work. Hogan proposed new legislation and limits on chicken-manure use, ultimately addressing at least one environmental regulation. He has not proposed any legislation to sufficiently deal with the problem of coal-fired power-plant pollution, however—and that has Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland Sierra Club, worried.

“Withdrawing these regulations was pretty upsetting to those of us in the community who believe that the regulations are critical to people’s health and the health of the bay,” he says. And the idea that the manure bill was last-minute O’Malley shenanigans? Not so, argues Tulkin. He notes that the bill was the result of more than a year of negotiation among environmental activists, legislators, and the governor’s office. “Now what we’ve got is a watered-down regulation to protect the bay, and Hogan’s kicking the can down the road when it comes to air quality.”

Hogan’s barging on the scene is an example of his refusal to play by the rules—and that’s not just outsider-nonpartisan governing, it’s a power grab.

“The printing in the register is pro forma. This was unusual.” So unusual, in fact, that the Sierra Club, in concert with Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and represented by Earthjustice, has just filed suit against the Hogan administration for blocking the NOx Regulation that would have mandated the use of environmental protecting technology on Maryland’s seven remaining coal-fired power plants. The regulation was the result of long negotiations and, according the suit, represented a compromise acceptable to virtually all parties, including the owner of several of the power plants that would be affected by the new rules. The suit charges that not only did Hogan not play by the rules when he refused to have the regulations printed by the Division of State Documents, but he broke Maryland law.

Matthew Clark, director of communications for Hogan’s office, argues the move was “completely legal—[counsel to the General Assembly] Sandra Benson Brantley gave the legal opinion that the governor had the authority to halt those regulations. Folks are mischaracterizing what has actually happened.” The Sierra Club’s lawsuit will give both sides a chance to argue this one out.

But the Sierra Club isn’t alone in seeing Boss Hög overstepping his bounds. Todd Reynolds, political coordinator for Maryland’s Associated Federation of Teachers (AFT-Maryland), says this past session was unlike any other.

Budgeting at the state level is supposed to work like this: The governor proposes a budget that the General Assembly then works with. They can’t add to the budget, but they can move money around a little bit, which the assembly did, finding money to ensure the COLA (erroneously called “a raise” by many) promised state employees by the previous year’s budget and additional funding for school districts with high rates of poverty. Once he had the budget back in his hands, Hogan tipped his hat to the “good job” done by the assembly. And then, two weeks before the end of the session, it all fell apart. Reynolds recalled the return of the budget to the assembly floor: Even Republican lawmakers seemed unsure about what was going on, whether the party line was to support Hogan’s last-minute resistance to the assembly’s budget.

Was this turnabout part of Hogan’s bullish leadership style, a no-nonsense approach to governing that he might claim he was elected to demonstrate? Reynolds says the possible explanations are multiple. Part of it is the steep learning curve of being new on the job, “not just politically, being a good listener, that sort of thing, but also to know what he can and cannot do legally.”

Refusing to print O’Malley’s regulations in the Register was just one example, but Reynolds cites other political sleights of hand Hogan used in his arguments against extending school funding. Hogan argued that to fund the differential cost of education in regions of the state that experience greater poverty would mean raiding the pension fund. That was misleading, Reynolds says: “There’s a pension fund, and the only way money moves out of it is via payments to retirees. You can’t ‘raid’ the pension fund.” Money would be drawn down from previously promised overpayments to the pension fund—hardly, in Reynolds’ perspective, a raid. Was this a matter of Hogan not understanding how budgets work, or the kind of rhetorical play we’re used to seeing in politics? David Brinkley, Hogan’s secretary of budget and management, is widely viewed as an expert on fiscal matters, so it’s hard to know what’s going on.

Speaking on the issue now, Clark argues that Hogan always wanted to support the COLA, as soon as money was found to pay for it. This claim rings a bit hollow in light of Hogan’s threat to extend the legislative session if he couldn’t get his priorities passed; state workers waited until May 6 to find out that their July paycheck would stay the same.

And that uncertainty plagued many who attempted to work with Hogan’s administration in the first session year. From Tulkin’s perspective, this session marked a big difference from O’Malley’s in terms of communication: “Under O’Malley, we had a direct line of communication. We didn’t always agree, but there was an open door. We could advocate, educate, provide important data about what other states were doing. It is a real loss that new administration doesn’t take advantage of these resources more.” Tulkin hopes to figure out how to improve communication with Hogan in the future: “We need this collaboration, for the health of all Marylanders.”

For Reynolds, the problems working with Hogan’s camp were about a lack of communication, and also clarity about Hogan’s priorities. He notes that although AFT-Maryland never had a direct meeting with the governor, they were in meetings with Hogan’s special adviser on the charter school issue, Keiffer Mitchell, long a major player in Democratic politics. That made it all the more confounding when Hogan, who ran without a clear platform on education, came out swinging to amend Maryland’s charter school laws. Reynolds speculates that Hogan’s big push on charter schools would have made them look more like charter schools in other states—a sign that perhaps that platform was coming from advisers outside of Maryland altogether, especially given the prior lack of a real education platform. On this issue and on budgeting, Hogan’s actions were new, and “it’s difficult to negotiate when you’re not sure what the other player is doing.”

It is not only interest groups on the outside of official Annapolis business. Fellow lawmakers struggled over the term to communicate with Hogan. As the session wound down and Democrats and Republicans remained far apart on core budget issues, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert/Charles/Prince George’s counties) complained of a lack of progress, and meetings were not scheduled between Hogan and assembly leadership even two days before the close of the session.

Maggie McIntosh, chair of the house appropriations committee and delegate from Baltimore’s 43rd District, says there’s a lack of communication between the assembly and the governor’s office. “It seems to me, from what I experience, and what others experienced, there wasn’t a consistent message that came out of the second floor [Hogan’s office].” And it was not just about big issues or the budget. McIntosh gave an example: Shortly after Hogan was sworn in, he circulated a copy of his State of the State address, as governors always do. “But the next day, the speech was totally different.”

A small thing, perhaps, but McIntosh emphasized that it is an example of a staffing issue. “He brought in some folks from out of state, from the Republican National Committee, but they don’t necessarily know the legislative process in Maryland.” Hogan may have run a campaign as a Maryland boy, but he’s also the candidate who often touted his endorsement by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie and invited him onto the main stage at his inauguration. Hogan’s staff found themselves with their own steep learning curves, proffering its own challenge to an assembly expecting the governor to play by the rules.

Hogan’s staff also includes people who know Maryland politics well, and communication with them was, from her perspective, quite easy. “Among his staff there’s a difference in philosophy that gets us all caught up sometimes,” McIntosh says. “For some, it’s ‘my way or the highway,’ while others understand that there are priority areas in which the governor can make only incremental progress.” Governance is, in McIntosh’s words, “a marathon, not a sprint.” And, as she and others have pointed out, Hogan made big progress on some of his priority issues, including passing a budget that included no revenue increases (another way of saying taxes).

It is precisely this marathon nature of the process that frustrates many grassroots activists. For those without the ear of government officials that major unions and nonprofits have and without the guaranteed seat at the table occupied by elected officials, Hogan’s administration was nothing out of the ordinary.

Dayvon Love, director of research and public policy with Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), spent much of last year’s session working to reform the Maryland Law Enforcement Bill of Rights (LEBOR), prior to the massive publicity following the killing of Freddie Gray. LBS and its allies argue that LEBOR is the single biggest obstacle to the transparency and accountability of the Baltimore Police Department as it puts police officers in charge of investigating their own, keeps non-law-enforcement citizens off police trial boards, allow officers 10 days to examine their investigatory files before being required to appear in front of a hearing board, and puts a statute of limitations of 90 days on any police-brutality claim. From LBS’ perspective, this “bill of rights” has meant a loss of rights to citizens in the community, and until LEBOR is overturned, there’s little that can be done to hold police officers accountable for their own violence.

From Love’s perspective, Hogan’s leadership did not play a significant role in putting the issue on the table—or taking it off. LBS and its allies spent much of the session trying to cultivate relationships in the assembly, and they only had 90 days to do it. That’s a big part of the problem for grassroots groups and citizens without the resources to devote to year-round lobbying, especially when big change means making connections with groups all over the state.

“Most grassroots groups lack the capacity to do all that work,” Love says. The problem is made even deeper given the racialized context within which any political work is done in Annapolis. Love argues that the General Assembly “operates like a plantation—there is not a lot of independent black political infrastructure. Most of what you get is black activists having to negotiate within a limiting framework” that recognizes only a certain mode of politics as “belonging” at the General Assembly table. “We’ve got to figure it out,” Love says. “We have to figure out what independent black leadership looks like.” Otherwise it’s business as usual, the white supremacy that shapes our collective history continuing to shape our future.

The logical conclusion of this line of argument is that it does not much matter whether an O’Malley or a Hogan is governor: As Love shrugs, “Same beast.” In fact, after years of Democrats at the helm, Love had some hope for Hogan’s election. Perhaps an efficient businessman could break through the thick bureaucracy that makes real change so difficult to make happen, especially at the level of state policy. Hogan’s first term, however, gave lie to that hope as Love and LBS found themselves locked out of the rooms where real decisions are made, again.

That sense of being locked out of the room where the big decisions are made is shared by lots of folks who see the state as an adversary. Hogan’s campaign promise to cut taxes only resonates when we see the state spending “our” money on itself rather than us, as if the state is wholly separate from the people it governs. It’s a widely shared cynicism that resonates from the Occupy movement that promised to “build a new world in the shell of the old” to the call for volunteerism in the wake of the uprising. The state isn’t going to save us, so we best save ourselves, or so it goes.

But we cannot afford to let go of the struggle for state resources—or to celebrate the largess of the governor’s office when it does fork over the cash to keep a rec center open in Baltimore City, as Hogan recently did to great fanfare. Isn’t that its job, to use our collective resources to meet collective needs? None of us can afford to simply throw up our hands and walk away from the table, no matter how messy it is. That’s where the money—our money—is at, and new strategies to break through the bureaucracy that funnels our shared resources in ways that we do not like are imperative. This is made even more complicated because we do not always know what the solutions will be.

For some, the solution to a problem such as educational inequality is more charter schools opened and staffed by people who understand community needs, and making that possible will mean loosening charter regulations. For others, charter schools might be part of the solution, but not if it means putting them out of reach of larger community oversight or giving up on a shared commitment to educate all students. For some, the solution to shuttling people around between far-flung homes and city workplaces is shared public transportation, even if it’s really expensive, because the costs in the long term, if we can force ourselves to see that far, are a whole lot higher. For others, it’s just about more concrete lanes for more private cars because the short term costs are simply too much to stomach. We’re still figuring out what it might mean to make choices for the collective in a society that fetishizes the individual beyond all measure.

Turns out, Boss Hög or not, politics is hard work that is never simply “done.” 

*This sentence was updated the include Gov. Glendening's role in the process.

**In an earlier version of this story, City Paper erroneously referred to Hogan's real estate and development firm as "Hogan Enterprises." City Paper regrets the error.

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