A recent poll by the Washington Post brought gasps of surprise from Republicans – even in a state where registered Republicans are outnumbered by better than 2-to-1 by their Democratic counterparts, the people of Maryland approve of Larry Hogan’s performance by a margin of 61% to 22% disapproval. Since a similar poll taken shortly after Hogan took office, he has gained 19 points in the approval department by pulling in a large percentage of those who previously had no opinion and even whittling the disapproves from 24% to 22%.
All those are encouraging signs, particularly as the Post points out Hogan is nine points up on Martin O’Malley at a similar juncture and back in the territory Bob Ehrlich enjoyed early on.
Of course, the Democrats retort that a portion of the goodwill is based on Hogan’s ongoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with his last round wrapping up. Hogan’s newly bald head is regularly featured on social media as a constant reminder of his treatment, something which he’s parlayed into a lot of good press coverage.
Insofar as policy goes, though, Hogan has gone pretty much down the center of the road. The incoming governor whose initial act of significance was to pull unpopular phosphorus regulations from being published in the Maryland Register ended up compromising on less stringent measures in order to avoid a veto fight over a legislative version of the O’Malley regulations. Days later, his first budget made some unpopular “cuts” (read: more modest increases in spending than the opposition was conditioned to expect) but still was larger than the previous year’s.
On the transportation front, Hogan pulled the Red Line in Baltimore but decided to keep the Purple Line in the suburbs of Washington provided the local governments paid more for it. He used the money saved from the Red Line to fund needed highway projects and also figured out a way to reduce the tolls in Maryland. Unfortunately, we still have the higher gas taxes passed by Martin O’Malley to pay for the Purple Line and planned Red Line.
In a number of ways, Hogan has achieved his level of popularity to working around the edges. The makeup of the General Assembly is such that Hogan had a number of bills that passed where he allowed them to become law without his signature. It was probably a political calculation of the likelihood of whether his veto would hold and if the hill was vital enough to die on politically. Both sides seemed to be feeling each other out in a cautious session – save the doomed effort to roll back the “rain tax,” Hogan’s legislative agenda had a focus on economic development that was to some extent left over from the O’Malley administration’s half-hearted attempts to address the state’s awful business climate.
The question for Maryland Republicans going forward is just how much conservatism they want to push. Those in the party who disapprove of Hogan generally fall into either or both of the two categories of wanting fewer gun restrictions or better leadership on social issues – naturally, the Democrats tried to use both as wedge issues against Hogan and failed.
Maybe a better way to frame this is to question whether the Republican caucus in the General Assembly will create its own legislative agenda for next year or just ride along with Hogan’s. One thing I have noticed over the years is that there are several legislators who introduce bills in the General Assembly but we don’t seem to have a platform we follow – it’s like every man for himself.
Perhaps next session the GOP should pick out eight to ten important, conservative bills and work like hell to get them passed, bypassing the committee if necessary. (For example, had they done that on the original “rain tax” bill, they could have forced a floor vote on sustaining it, putting Democrats on the record as favoring it.) They can even be repeal bills of O’Malley legislation – after all, if Hogan is rolling back O’Malley’s toll hikes and Red Line boondoggle, we should hope he will ditch items like the “septic bill” and PlanMaryland.
If you have 61% of the public behind you, it’s time to grab a bully pulpit and make needed change.