When Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the fate of the Purple Line on Thursday — the biggest decision of his young administration — he wore a green lapel ribbon to promote awareness of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the cancer he had been diagnosed with a week earlier.
His Facebook page has been filled with well-wishes, and he has received calls from fellow Republicans Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and many others in the days since he told a live television audience about the tumors that have spread in his neck, chest, abdomen and groin.
Hogan, who is a blunt-spoken businessman-turned-politician, has been simple and straightforward in describing the medical tests he has endured and the brutal chemotherapy regimen he started Saturday. Initially, he had planned to start treatment Monday, but he opted to begin earlier.
Cancer, Hogan said, “is a disease that has touched every one of us in this room, through friends or family or loved ones. It is my hope that by being candid and transparent about my battle, that I’ll be able to help raise awareness that could ultimately benefit others.”
Such candor can be beneficial, said Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. “It’s really important — especially to other people who have cancer. The way he was so forthcoming, honest and, quite frankly, brave.”
Those who know Hogan, 59, say his openness in this instance reflects the personality and the political style of a former real estate executive who won his first campaign last year after two previous runs for Congress.
He was known on the campaign trail as “Just Larry,” a Republican whose average-guy persona won over voters — many of them Democrats — to defeat former lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown (D) in a long-shot gubernatorial bid.
“It’s the not-so-secret ingredient of his political success,” Herb Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., said of Hogan’s “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” attitude. “He just lays it all out there.”
House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said that Hogan is not like some politicians who have a tendency to be guarded and choose their words carefully.
“He is raw and honest about what he believes should be done for our state,” Kipke said, referring to Hogan’s pointed critiques of tax increases and spending priorities enacted by former governor Martin O’Malley (D). “That raw honesty came through this week in how he shared with Marylanders about his battle with cancer.”
Hogan’s outspokenness has sometimes placed him at odds with Democratic leaders. In Baltimore, following the unrest over Freddie Gray’s death, Hogan’s public frustration with not being able to reach Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) created tensions that continue to fester. In Annapolis, his refusal to back down in a dispute over education spending left senior legislative leaders bitter and vexed.
“You always know where you stand with him,” said Russ Schriefer, a Republican political consultant who worked for Hogan’s campaign last year. “There is a certain no-nonsense quality to him.”
Voters across Maryland say that they seem to know Hogan personally, in part because of his folksy manner and in part because he frequently talks about — and posts pictures on Facebook of — his family: wife Yumi, daughters Jaymi Sterling, Julie Kim and Kim Velez, his sons-in-law and his young granddaughter.
Last Monday, they all surrounded him as he told the story of his diagnosis, saying he was “just like the more than 70,000 people diagnosed with lymphoma every single year who fight it, beat it and continue doing their jobs at the same time.”
Trying to explain how he discovered that something might be wrong with him, Hogan grabbed his neck, revealing a golf-ball-sized tumor. (“You can probably see it,” he said.) He first felt it, he said, while shaving at the end of a recent trade mission to Asia. He went to his primary care doctor when he returned. That led to a visit to a specialist, then another doctor’s visit. He had to cancel about half of his schedule, Hogan said, while taking the myriad tests that ultimately would reveal the cancer.
“It was like peeling an onion,” he said. “Let’s send you for this test. Oh, that’s bad. Let’s send you for this test. That doesn’t look so good. Let’s send you for this test. It’s even worse than we thought.”
John T. Willis, a political science professor at the University of Baltimore, said that Hogan will see a “positive bump” in his popularity because of the way he delivered his announcement. Prayer vigils have been organized from Annapolis to heavily Democratic West Baltimore, and the hashtag #hoganstrong is proliferating on social media, sometimes against a background that looks like the Maryland state flag.
But Willis said that the long-term political effect for Hogan is more complex. He has been in office for just five months, and his ability to juggle his responsibilities with chemotherapy remains to be seen. Assuming that he beats the cancer, his approval rating and the perception of his job performance still will depend on the policy decisions he makes and how some of those decisions are conveyed, Willis said.
“Every governor has their own style, and the political skill in communicating that is underrated,” Willis said. “That’s going to be a challenge for the governor and lieutenant governor.”
Doctors confirmed Hogan’s diagnosis June 18, a Thursday, and he spent Friday and the weekend breaking the news to his family and a few close aides. He was adamant about telling the public on his own terms, in his own words, facing the cameras and answering whatever questions reporters posed.
Before he announced his diagnosis this past Monday, he gathered his Cabinet to inform them. He told them that if they want to support him, they should “just do your jobs. That’s how you can help me.”
After the news conference, Hogan, his family and several aides went into the governor’s office, where they shared hugs.
The governor stayed out of public view the next two days, following up with doctors, meeting with staffers at the governor’s mansion and finalizing his decision to approve the Purple Line light-rail project, with certain stringent conditions. On Thursday, he resurfaced to announce that decision, sporting the green ribbon.
The Purple Line news conference ended with a reporter asking about the ribbon and whether there was any update on Hogan’s health.
As a matter of fact, there was, Hogan replied. His bone marrow biopsy — a painful test that he had talked about three days prior and that involved a 12-inch needle and some heavy painkillers — was negative.
That means “I’m at Stage 3,” not the more serious Stage 4, Hogan said.
The audience, which included transportation staffers and light-rail advocates, applauded vigorously, drawing a broad smile from the governor.
“That’s exactly how I reacted,” Hogan told them.