For the past three weeks, at almost every news conference, interview and public apperance, Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan has announced that the county school board is filled with "big spenders" and "propaganda artists."
It has been a vehement campaign yet the rhetoric is decidedly familiar. The school board is only the latest victim of a Hogan assault.
In January, it was the county bureaucrats, who, Hogan said, took county cars home at night when there was no need and squandered overtime and expense funds. In February, it was the "slumlords" who operated low income housing and the "demagogues" who criticized Hogan's decision to condemn a major housing project.
In March, there were many targets: the "selfish" and "spiteful" state senators; the "overpaid" school teachers and other county employes; the "irresponsible" media; and the "partisan" County Council, among others.
Since taking office last December, in fact, Hogan has managed to provoke more public squabbles than even the toughened, squabble-prone Democrats of the county are used to. And though some observers attribute the fights to Hogan's temper and personal defensiveness, open confrontation is becoming an important-and deliberate-element of Hogan's political style.
A Republican outsider in a predominantly Democratic county, Hogan came to power at a time when taxweary voters were approving a strict ceiling on property taxes. From the first, Hogan took the tax-revolt theme as his own, attacking every county institution and interest group traditionally mistrusted by conservative, antigovernment voters.
In the progress, Hogan has adopted the role of pugnacious political warrior, both in style and in substance. "He has generated the image of a loner fighting off all the Democrats and the government unions," said Democratic Council member Parris N. Glendening, who has had his own scrapes with Hogan.
"I think that's a deliberate strategy," Glendening added. So far, however, the results of the continual turmoil have been mixed, at best.
Hogan has sustained two major losses both the work of the county's legislators, all Democrats, who stripped Hogan of the power to make appointments to the county zoning board and failed to pass a measure restoring the county's authority to borrow money.
While the fights were still going on, several of the county's state senators-who, along with the county's delegates have ultimate authority over legislation dealing strictly with Prince George's-said they would work against Hogan's legislation regardless of its merits, because of their personal disputes with him.
The result of other conflicts will not become clear until next month, when the County Council completes work on Hogan's budget. However, a majority of council members have already said that they favor restoring some of the approximately $13 million in cuts Hogan has made in the $281 million proposed school budget, and the council is likely also to raise employe salary increases beyond - limits set by Hogan.
Nonetheless, Hogan's style has worked in some cases. Two weeks ago, he managed to cool the anger of policemen during their one-day job action by appearing at their union head quarters and bluntly answering their questions and complaints-sometimes with curses.
When the meeting was over, Hogan further pleased the police-who had strongly supported him during last fall's campaign-by publicly sympathizing with their frustrations, and attacking the media, which Hogan said had consistently misrepresented the police and unfairly misrepresented their reputation in the community.
From the viewpoint of some of his adversaries, Hogan has also scored major gains simply by becoming the hottest public relations item on the suburban scene.
"Politically, he hasn't hurt himself, and in fact, he's probably helped his public image," Glendening said. "He's been cashing in on a lot of strong public sentiments out in the county-like the prejudice against government unions."
"Hogan is an expert in public relations and publicity," said state Sen. John J. Garrity, one of the legislators Hogan has attacked. "He knows exactly how to get along with others and how not to get along with others to his own advantage."
"Whenever anything goes against him," Garrity maintained, "he immediately uses it as a public relations sword against the other party by saying it's political conflict."
Hogan, for his part, insists that what he calls his "indifferences" with the other, county officials and labor leaders are "more apparent than real."
"I think I've worked very well with the council, although there are a couple of them who are always willing to take partisan shots at me," Hogan said in an interview.
"I've really got no personal problem with any of the [state] senators, except for [Tommie] Broadwater and [Federick] Rummage," with whom Hogan engaged in a recent publicized shouting match. "As for those two," Hogan then added, "I expect our relations to get worse, and in fact I hope they do."
Hogan maintains that his differences with the legislators, the council and the school board are a natural product of county government, and that the media have exaggerated, if not created, most of them.
Hogan's political allies maintain that his well-publicized disputes, though not desirable, are understandable.
"He could be more diplomatic," said Barbara Anderson, the chair of the Prince George's Republican central committee. "I think with the frustrations he's had trying to work as the sole Republican among Democrats, [the confrontations] are inevitable. He's only human."
Twice so far, in fact, Hogan has gone on the offensive only after his policies have been questioned by political opponents. Last month, Hogan was denounced by Democratic coucil members after he announced that his proposed 1980 budget would include a $15 million increase in county spending. When council members reminded him of his campaign promises to cut the budget, Hogan responded by blaming the increase, in part, on his predecessor as county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr.
Earlier, when county housing inspectors condemned the 625-unit South Laurel Homes federal housing complex and ordered its low-income residents to move out in 10 days, Hogan was attacked by some community leaders who said he was trying to force poor minority families out of the county.
Hogan responded by attacking his critics as "demagogues" who political motivations, and in private meetings with reporters, urged them to concentrate on the failings of the owners of the project, rather than his policies.
Hogan and his supporters blame attacks by partisan opponents-amplified by the press-for the constant controversies. But, in several cases, Hogan's battles have begun in private meetings that were only later publicly reported.
The genesis of one of Hogan's losses-theauthority to appoint zoning board members-is illustrative. Hogan lost the power when state legislators enacted a measure giving the appointment power to the County Council.
But, says Council Chairman William B. Amonett, it didn't have to be that way. For years, Amonett said, the law had been vague on the question of whether the executive or the council had the right to make the appointment, and while a Democratic executive was in power, appointments were made by mutual agreement.
After Hogan's election, "I went upstairs and had a meeting with the executive to try and work this thing out." Amonett told the council Tuesday. "His response was to suggest that we decide it with a 'friendly' lawsuit."
It was Hogan's unwillingness to bargain with the council, Amonett said, that led council members to ask for the state legislation.
The result was, inevitably, a public confrontation between Hogan-who said the council was backing a"ripper bill"-and the Democratic council members.
Even after the bill had been introduced, however, a chance remained that Hogan could persuade state legislators to kill it.
This chance, however, evaporated after a private breakfast meeting between Hogan and the county legislators. At that meeting Hogan, while on the subject of appointments, informed Broadwater and Rummage that he would not consider any recommendations they might have for jobs Hogan controlled.
Predictably, heated rhetoric ensued, and all the senators eventually voted for the council's bill.
Hogan argued during the dispute that a legal decision was the only fair way to resolve the appointment authority between the council and executive, and now says that both legislative losses were the product of "selfishness" and partisan "spite" on the part of legislators.
Another squabble developed when leaders of the county's five blue collar unions asked that Hogan appear at one of their recent bargaining sessions after Hogan indicated that county employes, among them the workers then negotiating new contracts, would receive only 3 percent wage increases in 1980.
Hogan dutifully appeared. But instead of attempting to calm the agitated union leaders, he told them bluntly that if they bargained for more than a 3 percent cost-of-living increase, he would probably lay off some workers.
The result: Both unions and Hogan issued fiery public statements on the issue, creating a public stalemate that will be difficult to resolve.
"The unions are not going to be happy unless I cave in," said Hogan recently. "And I'm not going to cave in."
Another confrontation, then is ahead. "The problem with Hogan is that he's like me," said Garrity. "It's a good feeling for an Irishman to get into a good battle and scrap with all of his might. I enjoy it and he enjoys it.
"If Hogan could conquer that wrath," Garrity said, "he would overcome his own worst enemy." CAPTION: Picture, Supporters greet new County Executive Lawrence Hogan in December reception. By James M. Thresher-The Washington Post