MARYLAND’S MORIBUND Republican Party is holding a primary for governor next month, though voters might be excused for not noticing. Even compared with the lackluster Democratic contest, which has not set pulses galloping, the GOP race is a low-key affair, featuring anemically financed conservatives who are struggling to convey this message: Maryland has been laid low by the Democratic establishment in Annapolis, which in eight years under Gov. Martin O’Malley has taxed the life out of the state’s economy, leaving Virginia to claim the spoils.
It’s reasonable to question the proposition that Maryland’s economy is utterly supine, while still hoping for a genuine contest of ideas in this fall. The Republican most likely to offer voters a plausible alternative is Larry Hogan, a businessman who served as appointments secretary under former governor Robert L. Ehrlich, the state’s only GOP chief executive in the past 45 years.
Mr. Hogan, a genial Anne Arundel real estate broker whose father was a congressman in the 1970s, has distinguished himself from his main primary rivals by toning down the anti-tax brimstone and acknowledging the reality that Maryland is not Texas and a Republican governor will have to meet Democratic lawmakers in some conciliatory middle ground. Unlike Harford County Executive David R. Craig, who would start by declaring war on the state income tax, or Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, who would lead state government by attempting to eviscerate it, Mr. Hogan has a more modest agenda and a more realistic one.
He would seek spending cuts — ill-defined so far — by scouring agencies for what he calls small-ticket inefficiencies already identified in scores of audits. While he’s vague about the targets of spending trims, he’s also cautious not to overpromise: A 5 percent reduction in state spending, he says accurately, would be a major achievement. And commensurate tax cuts might start to repair the state’s business climate, which even Democrats acknowledge needs improvement.
Mr. Hogan considered running for governor in 2010 but backed out when Mr. Ehrlich attempted a comeback. Since then, he’s established a conservative grass-roots group, Change Maryland, which has been a springboard for his campaign. Given the time he’s had to plan his run, his campaign is glaringly short on policy specifics, and his views on education, health care and the environment are gauzy at best.
Still, he intentionally has distanced himself from more doctrinaire Republicans. Mr. Hogan sounds almost rueful when he says the state can’t afford Democratic priorities such as transit projects, including the Purple Line, or expanding pre-kindergarten. That doesn’t distinguish him from the rest of the GOP field, but his conciliatory tone and reluctance to declare war on the Democratic establishment do.
The Democrats’ overwhelming dominance of state politics in Maryland does not serve voters’ interests. It invites bloat, complacency and corruption. By positioning himself to the left of the GOP’s bomb-throwers, Mr. Hogan offers the best hope for a real race in November.