In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 and President Trump is deeply unpopular, it’s understandable why Hogan would want to avoid the association.
As he seeks to become the state’s first GOP governor to win re-election since 1954, Hogan has depicted himself as one of the nation’s few remaining moderates. He’s cut taxes and lowered tolls while committing billions to infrastructure projects such as the Purple Line. His independent reputation has made him popular with a substantial swath of Democratic-leaning voters, who find his calls to reject “the extremes of either political party” appealing. But reality tells a very different story. A look at Hogan’s record shows him to be fully at home in the modern GOP.
He has a history of vetoing legislation that is incompatible with the common perception of him as a moderate. Since taking office in 2015, he’s vetoed bills to restore voting rights to returning citizens; prohibit state colleges and universities from asking about applicants’ arrest or conviction records; remove criminal penalties for possession of marijuana paraphernalia; mandate a larger portion of electricity sold in Maryland to come from renewable sources; and require companies to offer paid sick leave. Several of these ideas have been embraced by prominent conservative leaders: Even the Koch Brothers, the billionaire benefactors of the Republican Party, support “banning the box” and granting felons the right to vote. On these issues, Hogan is to the right of them.
Yet Hogan’s clear pattern of opposing modest proposals to address some of our biggest problems, such as alleviating longstanding racial injustices and preventing the planet from overheating, has garnered little attention. There’s a reason for that. Every single one of those vetoes was subsequently overridden by the General Assembly.
For almost a century, Maryland Democrats have held a super-majority in Annapolis. Maintaining that firewall throughout the past four years has allowed them to surmount Hogan’s intransigence on key issues. But that firewall is at stake on Nov. 6.
The Democratic Party holds 33 seats in the 47-member Senate. The Maryland GOP has embarked on an effort to flip at least five seats in Senate districts that Hogan won handily in 2014, targeting six seats where Democrats won by an average of 8.6 points but Hogan won by an average of 30.4 points. Meanwhile, the Republican State Leadership Committee, an arm of the national Republican Party, injected $90,000 on mailers attacking 15 Democrats running for the House of Delegates. That infusion of cash came as Hogan leads his Democratic opponent, Ben Jealous, by double digits in recent polls.
If Hogan wins re-election and Republicans break the Democrats’ veto-proof majority, Maryland voters will finally be exposed in full to Hogan’s partisan impulses. Liberated from the constraints of facing Maryland voters again, the term-limited governor would not only maintain his conservative impulses, but he also would likely amplify them. He’s already adopted standard Republican disenfranchisement tactics, such as trying to block the restoration of felons’ voting rights, an apparent attempt to thwart thousands of African Americans, who are disproportionately affected by felon disenfranchisement, from voting.
Hogan has also simply refused to sign other mildly progressive legislation. One bill he let pass without his signature required health insurers to grant lesbian couples equal access to fertility treatments, another allowed transgender Marylanders to change the gender on their birth certificates.
But Hogan’s first term as governor may be a prelude to something more insidious. As the second most popular governor in America, according to a Morning Consult in July, it’s hard to imagine he sees Annapolis as the conclusion of his political journey.
When Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he was, in many ways, the model of a popular GOP governor of a blue state: He supported abortion rights, passed the health-care law that became the prototype for Obamacare and maintained the image of an efficient, fiscally responsible executive. Once he decided to run for president, however, he became a far more of a conventional Republican, opposing abortion rights and the health-care model he once championed. Because Hogan has governed less moderately than Romney, he wouldn’t have to flip-flop on as many issues and thus would be less vulnerable as a national candidate.
Romney and Hogan have something else in common. In the 2016 election, both excoriated Trump. Romney gave a speech calling Trump a “phony” and a “fraud.” Hogan, who early on said he wouldn’t endorse Trump, wrote his own father’s name on the ballot. Once Trump won, they both became his enablers. Now running for an open Senate seat in Utah, Romney has said he would support the president’s priorities on Capitol Hill. Hogan has been more tactical, speaking of his “good relationship” with Trump but working assiduously to avoid either rhetorically embracing or rejecting his agenda.
Yet he has made clear where his loyalties lie. Even before Trump became president, Hogan was anti-refugee. In 2015, he wouldn’t allow displaced Syrians to resettle in Maryland. When Trump implemented his travel ban in 2017, Hogan refused to speak out against the measure. Even more tellingly, he wouldn’t allow Attorney General Brian Frosh to sue the administration over it. (The General Assembly later granted Frosh that authority.)
If given four more years in the Governor’s Mansion, Hogan would likely seek to solidify his conservative bona fides and make inroads with a Republican Party moving increasingly to the right. If the Democrats’ legislative standing is diminished, he will be free to carry out the reactionary policies he purports to transcend.
Hogan has already proved himself to be far more right-wing than he lets on. Once he wins reelection, he would finally start to acknowledge it.