The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As he weighs a challenge to Trump, Larry Hogan says he offers a ‘model’ of bipartisanship. That’s only partly true.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan addresses the crowd gathered for his second inauguration Jan. 16 in Annapolis. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is touting his dealings with Democratic lawmakers as a model of bipartisanship, drawing a national spotlight and accolades from Republican dissenters who are seeking a less-polarizing alternative to President Trump.

The governor, who is consulting with aides and national GOP critics of Trump about whether to pursue a White House bid, said at his inauguration this month that he and state Democrats have “put problem-solving ahead of partisanship and compromise ahead of conflict.”

But Hogan’s first-term record includes cross-party nastiness as well as collaboration. At times, he forged compromises with lawmakers on major issues. In other moments, he was disengaged.

He called political opponents “thugs,” barred more than 450 critics from his official Facebook page and sometimes took credit for Democratic legislation he had initially opposed.

Leading Democrats in Annapolis say the governor was easier to work with in the second half of his term, an evolution that could reflect the divisiveness in Washington or his gubernatorial reelection campaign.

“The first two years of the term were more confrontational and hostile,” said state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), the vice chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. “After the 2016 election and the rise of the Trump administration, I suspect the Hogan administration took a hard look at how the next two years would function. . . . I commend him for adjusting his approach.”

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Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Hogan “has worked in a bipartisan manner to deliver real, common-sense solutions that have changed Maryland for the better.”

“We don’t engage and fight on every one of the thousands of bills proposed each session,” Chasse said in a statement. “We let the legislature do their jobs and develop policy through a democratic process, and the governor does his job as the chief executive of the state.”

Those close to Hogan say he is unlikely to run for president in 2020 unless Trump is severely weakened or decides not to seek a second term.

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But the governor has made clear he wants to be part of the national conversation, denouncing the recent government shutdown as a failure on the part of both Trump and congressional leaders.

After eschewing national media appearances in his first term, he joined a PBS “NewsHour” panel discussion Monday with Govs. Chris Sununu (R-N.H.) and Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Penn.) titled “Divided Nation, United States: Navigating Today’s Partisan Waters.”

Hogan again did not rule out running for president in 2020. He called for a new way forward in Washington and endorsed nonpartisan redistricting and open primary elections.

When moderator Judy Woodruff pointed out that those proposals would not be popular with national party leaders, Hogan shrugged.

“Don’t care,” he said.

'Not a career politician'

Hogan campaigned in 2014 on a platform of reversing tax and fee increases enacted by his predecessor, Democrat Martin O’Malley, in the years after the Great Recession. During Hogan’s maiden State of the State address , he chided Democrats over the “floundering” economy and the “exodus of taxpayers fleeing our state.”

At the time, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the speech was tantamount to “poking a stick in the eye of the people you need.”

Each side accused the other of failing to communicate, leading to bitter fights about the governor’s first budget and perennial conflicts over school spending. At one point, Hogan criticized lawmakers for pushing legislation to limit his powers and mockingly compared them to college students on spring break.

“They come here for a few weeks,” Hogan said on “The C4 Show” on WBAL-AM Radio. “They start breaking up the furniture and throwing beer bottles off the balcony.”

Hogan surprised Democratic lawmakers with unilateral announcements that he would close a scandal-plagued Baltimore jail, lower tolls on state roadways and order public schools to start classes after Labor Day.

In 2016, he lashed out at state teachers union officials who criticized a budget decision involving school funding, calling them “thugs” on his Facebook page.

Hogan’s changes for Maryland come with an in-your-face attitude

“There are times when he has been bipartisan, and there are times when he has been extremely partisan,” said Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery).

Democratic lawmakers say state government agencies were often little to no help in giving expert testimony or the governor’s position on proposed legislation. Hogan aides said the administration has provided advice and counsel on bills that it deems important.

Unlike O’Malley, who testified before legislative committees, Hogan prefers to bring lawmakers into his office to discuss measures, his staff said.

“Governor Hogan is not a career politician,” Chasse said. “He doesn’t see the need to follow procedural norms.”

Hogan originally opposed a ballot question on a constitutional amendment that would require the state to use casino taxes on education. Within weeks, he reversed his position and began calling the proposal the “Hogan lockbox.”

He took no position on legislation to provide free community college and did not work to help it pass in the Democratic-majority legislature. But after he signed the bill, he embraced the issue on the campaign trail and announced that if elected he would expand the scholarship program.

“In those instances, we do all the work and he gets the credit,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), the vice chairwoman of the Health and Government Operations Committee.

There were notable exceptions.

Hogan worked closely with Democratic legislative leaders to craft a deal that lowered health insurance premiums for residents affected by the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. He also collaborated with them to approve dedicated funds for the Washington-area Metro system, address crime in Baltimore and boost school safety after a shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County.

Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said Hogan’s support for the 2016 Justice Reinvestment Act was crucial in bolstering GOP support for the criminal justice-reform bill.

When lawmakers were deadlocked over specific provisions in the closing days of the legislative session, Christopher Shank, a former Republican lawmaker who had become a top policy aide, negotiated a deal between the House and Senate.

“I’ve gotten to know [Hogan] politically and on a personal level. . . . He truly wants to work together,” said Zirkin, who earlier in 2016 had publicly rebuked the governor and demanded an apology from him for his “spring break” comment.

How Larry Hogan’s ‘regular guy’ has smoothed his partisan edges

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), who considers Hogan a friend and has known him for decades, said the governor has “evolved.”

“When he first got elected, he never held public office before and he was very conservative, believing government is the problem, not the answer,” Miller said. “He’s come around. He’s grown.”

Spreading a message

Two people who have talked about Hogan’s future with him recently and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss those conversations, said Hogan is not likely to directly challenge Trump in 2020 unless the president is significantly weakened. Trump has already raised more than $100 million for his reelection bid and consolidated support within the Republican National Committee.

Hogan is “very practical and realistic about where things are. . . . He sees what kind of percentages Trump gets in the Republican Party and how influential he is in some of the Southern states,” said one of the people, who spoke to Hogan before Trump’s poll numbers fell in the final days of the government shutdown.

“I don’t think he has one of these burning ambitions to be president,” this person said. “He does think that his message, and the Maryland example, is important right now. And he wants to find a way to spread it. Does he have to run for president to do it? Probably not, but maybe.”

Republicans reeling from political damage caused by shutdown

Hogan, the incoming chair of the National Governors Association, has succeeded in drawing the media spotlight, including columns in the New York Times and The Washington Post and articles in BuzzFeed and Politico.

He plans to meet soon with commentator Bill Kristol and strategist Sarah Longwell, both leading anti-Trump Republicans, Chasse said. And he has told reporters he plans to hold political meetings when he visits Iowa in early March for NGA business, and will likely travel to New Hampshire in coming months.

Kristol has been meeting with Republican donors and potential candidates, showing them polling that suggests Trump may be vulnerable to a primary challenge, despite his high approval ratings among GOP voters.

“A fair number of those approvers are not on board for reelecting Trump, necessarily,” Kristol said. “When you say to them, ‘Going forward do you think Trump is the right guy to win in 2020?’, they get more nervous.”

In a recent interview with The Post, Hogan said he was focused on Maryland and “being a bigger part of the discussion.”

But he did not rule out a presidential run.

“I don’t think you can ever rule anything out,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next year, or two, or six years.”

Rachel Chason, David Weigel and Michael Scherer contributed to this report.

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