Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) used his fourth State of the State address Wednesday to tally his accomplishments and make his case for a second term, claiming credit for what he described as an era of prosperity and bipartisanship after taking office at a "critical turning point."
The popular governor, who is seeking to become the first Republican chief executive reelected in Maryland in 60 years, touted his efforts to create jobs, protect the environment, cut taxes and boost transportation spending, telling his audience six times that "we cannot afford to turn back now."
He urged the Democratic-majority legislature to embrace his proposals to shield Marylanders from higher taxes under the new federal tax law, strengthen school accountability and implement stricter sentencing guidelines for repeat criminal offenders.
"Let's keep moving forward," he said before offering a slightly tweaked version of his signature 2014 campaign slogan. "Let's continue changing Maryland for the better."
Democrats, who are counting on a strong backlash against President Trump to weaken Hogan's standing in the general election, questioned the governor's claims that Maryland had been in terrible shape when he took office and now is doing much better.
While Hogan said the state has added 110,000 jobs in the past three years, the state Democratic Party said the rate of job growth (4.24 percent) has lagged behind the national average (4.99 percent) since he took office, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
"Health-care premiums have risen by double digits every year, and the opioid epidemic rages on," said former NAACP president Ben Jealous, who is one of seven Democrats seeking the party's nomination to challenge Hogan in November.
Hogan, whose approval ratings are near record levels, credited lawmakers with helping him enact balanced budgets while cutting taxes for retired veterans and police officers and for "moving forward with nearly all of the highest-priority transportation projects in every single jurisdiction."
Drawing a distinction between politics on Capitol Hill and in Annapolis, the governor said Maryland's elected state leaders have "risen above the fray" of partisan acrimony.
But Democrats said Hogan's claims of bipartisanship in Annapolis rang hollow, noting that he has vetoed several of their priority bills in recent years, including paid sick leave, a measure to reduce the emphasis on standardized testing as a measure of school success, and a bill to restore the voting rights of felons who are on parole or probation.
Lawmakers successfully overrode Hogan's vetoes.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said Hogan took too much credit during the 24-minute speech for Maryland's prosperity.
"We're a high-income state, we always have been," Miller said. "Not because of what myself, the speaker, the governor or anyone else has done, but because we are located immediately adjacent to the nation's capital."
In a prerecorded "response" to Hogan's address, Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) said the General Assembly remains committed to ensuring federal changes to health care, the tax code and the environment do not adversely affect state residents. She said Hogan has not done enough to boost school funding.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) said Hogan's speech was "wonderful . . . He talked about his accomplishments over the last three years, which have been great."
Republicans in the chamber rose to applaud the governor's remarks more than half a dozen times, including when he mentioned tax cuts, job increases and his sentencing proposal. Many Democrats sat with their arms folded during those times.
But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle showed support for Hogan's proposal to extend a tax credit to military veterans and the bill passed this week by the General Assembly that would allow women who conceive a child as a result of an attack to terminate the parental rights of their assailant.
They stood and applauded when Hogan talked about his efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and introduced a guest, Karen Dolch of Salisbury, Md., whose son Chad Book died of an overdos ein December at age 29. Hogan said he met Book, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, at the young man's graduation from welding school, where the governor was a speaker.
"When we talk about this crisis, we are really talking about fighting for all the Chads and the Karens out there — for all the lives cut too short and all the families that will never be the same," Hogan said. "No matter how hard it is, we cannot ever give up this fight."
The election-year feel of Hogan's speech was mirrored by activity outside the State House on Wednesday, including attempts by some of the governor's critics to attack his record even before he took to the lectern.
The Democratic Governors Association launched its first digital ad campaign against Hogan since he took office, and an environmental activist dressed as a chicken showed up in the capital with a large fake check ostensibly from the poultry industry.
The stunt, organized by Food & Water Watch, alluded to a recent Wall Street Journal article about a 2014 donation to the Republican Governors Association by a poultry producer shortly before the RGA donated to Hogan's campaign.