Maryland’s African American lawmakers on Thursday blasted Larry Hogan for policies they said are hurting black communities, the first time the Republican governor has faced such explicit racial condemnation from Democrats since taking office last year.
During a news conference, lawmakers tore into Hogan and reiterated long-standing objections to actions by his administration, including the governor’s decision to kill the Red Line light-rail project in Baltimore and fund transportation projects elsewhere and to withhold extra education funding last year that was slated for Baltimore City and Prince George’s and other counties.
They accused Hogan of neglecting the black residents who make up 30 percent of the state’s population in favor of those who live in the rural, mostly white areas that overwhelmingly voted for him in 2014.
“There are assaults going on on our black communities,” Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore) said after the meeting of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. “We are not going to take it anymore. . . . We are not stupid. We know what’s going on, and we are going to retaliate.”
Hogan spokesman Douglass Mayer called the criticisms “a new low” in Annapolis, where Democrats hold large majorities in both legislative chambers, and Hogan’s defeat of the state’s longtime lieutenant governor in 2014 came as a shock to the Democratic establishment.
“Members of the General Assembly have just accused the governor of racism,” Mayer said. “This is the last, desperate act of legislators who refuse to discuss actual policy or solutions to real problems.”
Hogan prides himself on a diverse family and administration. His wife, Yumi, was born in South Korea, and he selected Boyd Rutherford, who is African American, as his lieutenant governor.
Hogan campaigned in poor, largely minority areas of Baltimore in 2014, a relatively unusual tactic for a Republican. He has launched initiatives to benefit the city after last spring’s riots, including a program to provide free books for children and a proposal for six-year schools that combine high school and college.
Black lawmakers say they are furious that Hogan, among other things, did not include funding for a hospital in Prince George’s County and for demolition of blighted properties in Baltimore in his initial budget proposal. (He announced funding for both after an outcry.)
Del. Barbara A. Robinson (D-Baltimore), leader of the black caucus, singled out Hogan’s plans to fund a new Baltimore City jail while deferring projects at historically black colleges, saying she “absolutely” believes his actions are racially motivated.
“Instead of coming to Baltimore and saying what Baltimore needs, he needs to listen to what the people in Baltimore say we need,” Robinson said.
Hogan — in a separate appearance on WBAL-AM (1090) on Thursday — said the jail project was an effort to cut costs and improve correctional services and had been requested by lawmakers.
“The idea that I want to take money away from kids to incarcerate people and build a jail is simply nonsense,” Hogan said. “If they don’t want this jail in Baltimore, I don’t want it, either.”
Hours later, the governor sent a letter to legislative leaders saying that he would cancel the construction of the new jail, freeing up $18.3 million in the capital budget “to fund important higher education priorities across Maryland.”
Hogan clashed sharply with Democrats last week over the General Assembly’s decision to allow felons to vote while they are on parole or probation — a change that advocates say will make up to 44,600 Marylanders, many of them black and from Baltimore, eligible to go to the polls.
Hogan vetoed a 2015 bill that would have granted those voting rights, saying felons should not get to vote until their punishments are complete. Democrats last week overrode the veto, meaning the law will take effect next month, in time for the April 26 primary.
After the override, Hogan accused Democratic lawmakers of voting against the will of the vast majority of state residents and said some could lose their seats over the issue. Democrats then blamed the governor’s rhetoric for a deluge of hateful messages they said they were receiving.
The sniping on Thursday was not limited to the black caucus news conference. In the radio interview, Hogan accused Democratic lawmakers of acting like they were “on spring break” during the 90-day legislative session and denounced several bills they are considering that would limit his authority on the budget and other issues.
Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) then took to the Senate floor to demand an apology. Hogan spokesman Mayer later said Zirkin “needs to learn to take a joke.”
By Thursday afternoon, lawmakers who were taking up bills in committee meetings were tweeting about their work with the hashtag #notspringbreak, and the phrase was trending on Twitter.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.