Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has slashed tolls on the state’s highways, canceled Baltimore’s long-planned Red Line light-rail project and, last week, dramatically announced the closure of the city’s deeply troubled Men’s Detention Center.
Hogan, Maryland’s first Republican governor in nearly a decade, did not need the backing of the Democratic-controlled state legislature for any of those decisions. He announced them on his own, deriding inaction by past administrations and acknowledging that he had made little effort to seek Democratic legislative leaders’ input before he acted.
The governor’s in-your-face approach contrasts with the pledges of bipartisanship he made after his election and at his inauguration. And although it is thrilling many of his supporters, it is stirring resentment among some Democrats in the General Assembly, whose support Hogan would need if he wants to make changes that require the passage of new laws.
“It’s an interesting style, one that no one has really put their finger on yet,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “He did run on cooperation, but he does from time to time go out on his own and do what he wants to do without talking to others.”
Richard Vatz, an expert on political rhetoric at Towson University, said the public is likely to care more about the impact of the governor’s actions than his approach.
“With a frustrated public, a combative style with a decision they support is not going to hurt him,” Vatz said. “He really is not risking much.”
Aides and other observers said that the governor, a businessman-turned-politician who as a candidate railed against tax increases, a stagnant state economy and government overspending, is methodically fulfilling promises he made to residents who handed him a stunning upset last year. And, he’s doing it quickly.
“When the governor is looking at what needs to happen in the state, his primary concern is what is in the best interest of the people of Maryland,” said Hogan spokesman Matt Clark. “He will move forward not based on whether or not it’s the right politics, but whether or not it’s the right thing to do.”
Clark said the governor’s announcement last week that he will shut the men’s jail at the Baltimore City Detention Center was a classic example of Hogan’s approach to addressing problems that have plagued the state for years.
He tasked his new corrections department secretary, Stephen T. Moyer, with figuring out how to address the substandard conditions at the Civil War-era facility, which has been the subject of multiple lawsuits.
Moyer, a former Maryland State Police official who was police chief in Sarasota, Fla., until Hogan hired him to head the corrections department, came up with the proposal to transfer hundreds of inmates from the jail to nearby facilities.
“The General Assembly, I guess, decided it should take 10 years, and we think it should take a couple of weeks, so we’re going to move a little more expeditiously,” Hogan said when asked during last week’s news conference about a 2013 legislative commission’s recommendations for the jail. Those recommendations included a decade-long plan to tear down the facility and build a new one.
“I never even looked at the General Assembly’s 10-year plan,” Hogan said dismissively. “We just want to get it closed right now.”
The governor did not say how he will improve medical and other services at the prison facilities — an issue that prisoner advocates say desperately needs to be addressed.
As the founder of Change Maryland, a grass-roots organization that criticized the policies of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), Hogan spent years on the sidelines of public life, blasting politicians for not moving fast enough to fix festering problems.
Now at the helm, Hogan sounds impatient as he enacts change.
“Frankly, I can not understand why this action did not happen years ago,” Hogan said of the detention center’s closure.
Hogan’s “decisiveness,” Clark said, “should not be confused with partisanship.”
Paul Ellington, who served as chief of staff to former lieutenant governor Michael S. Steele (R) and worked closely with Hogan on Change Maryland, said the governor is determined to accomplish his agenda, with or without the General Assembly.
“He believes that he has a mandate from the citizens and that they spoke out against the status quo to implement change,” Ellington said.
Democrats, for the most part, have found themselves criticizing Hogan not for his decisions, but for how he has gone about making them.
“It’s disappointing that they have decided to do all these things without our input,” said Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr. (D-Anne Arundel), who has served in the Maryland General Assembly for 16 years. “I’m not accustomed to this. . . . It should be about collaboration, not one body over the other.”
Hogan next wants to tackle redistricting, expanding educational options (including charter schools), shoring up the state’s pension system and revising state tax codes.
Much of that will require collaboration with the General Assembly, which reconvenes in January for its annual 90-day legislative session.
Regarding Hogan’s recent executive actions, Eberly said: “The worry is, does it then burn bridges on the issues that you absolutely need the legislature for? He is only in his first year — you don’t necessarily want to have bad blood.”
Eberly also said he sees some symbolism in the timing of Hogan’s recent major announcements, two of which came after the governor was diagnosed with Stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“This is also his way to show that his medical treatment isn’t interfering with him governing,” Eberly said. “He’s saying, ‘This won’t stop me from pursuing my agenda.’ ”
Josh Hicks contributed to this report.