A few weeks after he took office in December 1980, Larry Hogan was introduced on a local radio show as "the combative executive" of Prince George's County. "I'm not combative," argued Hogan in a voice that seemed to belie his claim. "I'm not looking for a fight. Some people say I'm fiesty, but I'm not!"
Few scenes captured more succinctly the personality of Lawrence J. Hogan, whose tenure in Upper Marlboro has been marked by a series of confrontations, now cuiminating in a strike by county workers. Hogan, long-eagle Republican at the top of the county's Democratic power structure, has become accustomed to arguing and fighting as a means of survival. It is so second-nature to him that he would argue with those who call him fiesty.
The long and bitter struggle Hogan waged with the county labor unions for 18 months before they went on strike this week brought his unyielding style of politics to a new level.
Last February when his labor negotiators presented him with a tentative agreement they had reached with the county unions, Hogan refused to sign it. Instead, he criticized the contact work of his own aides and argued that the package amounted to "a few flimsy pieces of paper that would give too much power to the union bosses."
A month later, when an independent hearing examiner ruled that Hogan had violated labor laws by rejecting the contract, Hogan angrily challenged the integrity of the examiner and again refused to sign the contract.
And last month, when a circuit court judge upheld the hearing examiner's finding and again directed Hogan to sign the wage contract, the county executive, in Detroit for the Republican National Convention, expressed amazement at the court ruling and ordered his attorneys to appeal it.
"Larry reminds me of the Lucy character in the Peanut comic strip," said one of his long-time friends when asked to explain Hogan's unyielding position on the labor front. "He's just a contrary fellow and becomes more that way when he thinks he's right. To say that he's strong-willed is an understatement, but all in all, "I'm glad he's that way."
In the case of the current labor dispute with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Hogan is convinced he is right. Despite criticisms of his behavior by the courts and labor arbiters, and charges of illegal "union-busting" by labor leaders and his political adversaries, Hogan is determined to "hang tough" while the the county goes through its first strike by hundreds of government employes.
"I'm standing up for the taxpayers," he said yesterday. "This has nothing to do with my personality. I'm doing what is right. A politician can go through life doing nothing and walk down the line and never have problems. Or you can take stances that are right and have people get angry at you."
That Hogan flourishes when faced with adversity, even when it is partly self-induced, is clear from the entire labor dispute with AFSCME's 1,500 members. Yesterday, aides were saying that Hogan was "well on top of things and in good spirits" as the strike progressed. Just a few weeks ago, however, that was not the case.
Hogan, his friends and aides said, had been in a bit of a "blue funk" for the last several weeks since he lost his widely publicized bid to lead the state delegation to the Republican National Convention last month.
At the convention, most press coverage went to Rep. Robert Bauman, the delegation head and a likely opponent for Hogan if he decides to run for governor in 1982. For days after the convention Hogan refused to talk to reporters and spent little time during the workday outside his office.
Then came the decision by Circuit Court Judge Jacob Levin which supported a recent hearing examiner's finding that Hogan had acted improperly and violated county labor laws in his handling of the dispute with the county employes union.
Hogan was sure he was correct, said he would appeal the ruling and grew angry at press coverage of his position. "You guys are unfair. You have never printed our side of the story," he said.
In the meantime, the union said it would go on strike as soon as Hogan appealed the Levin order. At a press conference, Hogan reacted by playing down the strike threat, saying that if one occurred, which he doubted, it would fizzle. The employes, like the public, knew he was right and AFSCME was wrong, he said.
On a midmorning radio show the day before the strike, he liked the union leadership to a little boy who draws a line on the ground and threatens to beat up anyone who crosses it. When someone does cross it, he moves the line instead of making good on the threat.
"He was backing us into a corner and challenging us," said AFSCME state representative Ernie Crofoot. "He wanted this strike."
Said Council chairman Parris Glendening, Hogan's main Democratic rival, "He literally dared them to strike. He seemed gleefully to look forward to the possibility."
On Tuesday aternoon, 12 hours after the jail had erupted in rioting and the strike was in full gear, Hogan sat before a roomful of reporters, answering dozens of rapid-fire questions, many antagonistic.
"I'm not at all responsible for the strike," he declared. "I'm protecting the interest of the taxpayers."
As he looked intently into the television cameras, Hogan appeared clearheaded and calm. Ever since the strike seemed certain his staff had noticed the difference.
"He's back to his old self," one aide had said on Monday. "He's back in control. What a relief."