The shock of election night in Maryland is beginning to dissipate, replaced by this question: What will Larry Hogan do as governor?
The Republican who pulled off what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) called “the biggest upset in the entire country” has about 11 weeks to weigh in on the state budget, hire a staff, pick Cabinet members and other agency leaders, and prepare to take over the executive suite occupied by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) since 2007.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” Hogan, a businessman who has never held elected office, said this week. “It’s a lot of work.”
Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday that he will meet soon with state legislative leaders. His campaign manager was set to sit down Friday with O’Malley’s chief of staff, aides to the governor said.
Throughout the campaign, Hogan focused tightly on reducing taxes, cutting wasteful spending and improving the state’s business climate. He rarely offered up positions on other issues.
That has left activists, lobbyists, state employees and others wondering what to expect over the next four years. Among the questions being asked: Who will Hogan pick to advise him? What will his legislative agenda look like? Will he start making bold changes on his first day?
“We have no idea,” said Kimberley Propeack, senior director of politics and communications for Casa de Maryland, a Latino advocacy group.
On Monday, the day before the election, a Hogan staffer joked that he and his colleagues might all be unemployed Wednesday. That same day, Hogan’s running mate — Boyd Rutherford, now the lieutenant governor-elect — said he was only “cautiously optimistic” that the ticket would win.
Even Hogan was taken aback by his having defeated two-term Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) by about five percentage points.
“I thought we were going to win,” Hogan said during his victory party. “But I was a little surprised by the margins, I gotta tell you.”
Vincent DeMarco, a Maryland activist who has pushed for gun-control measures and health-care reform, said he is assessing what to do next. “We’re not ready to talk about it,” he said Thursday.
Lobbying firms have started letting clients know that they can help them with Republicans as well as Democrats. Annapolis-based Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan & Silver alerted clients via e-mail that it “worked with Mr. Hogan and his running mate” when they were Cabinet secretaries in the administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).
At his first news conference as governor-elect, Hogan promised to appoint Republicans and Democrats to his administration. He tried to calm fears that he would fire a lot of state employees.
Hogan made no announcements Thursday, and his campaign staff said he was not available for interviews. The campaign’s social media accounts, which pumped out information during the race, contained no updates on his activities.
Sen. Joseph M. Getty (R-Carroll), who served as Ehrlich’s policy director, said that he heard relatively little talk during the campaign about who might serve in high-level positions in a Hogan administration and that the candidate was careful not to make promises.
In heavily Democratic Maryland, there is no obvious cast of characters who would follow Hogan into office. “Republicans don’t really have a big backbench to pick from,” said Leni Preston of the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform.
Hogan, she said, presents a “blank slate” on health-care issues.
Getty said he expects Hogan to reach out to some of their former co-workers from the Ehrlich era, “but I don’t expect a flood of Ehrlich people will be returning.”
Hogan’s inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 21, a week after the Maryland General Assembly convenes for its annual 90-day session. Soon after, Hogan will turn in his first budget. During past transitions, the new administration’s first budget has been drafted, at least in part, by the outgoing governor and his staff.
A number of advocates said Thursday that they view their causes as nonpartisan and that they hope to develop a good working relationship with Hogan. They looked for glimmers of hope in some of the comments he has made.
For example: Brown campaigned on a promise to expand half-day pre-kindergarten classes to all 4-year-olds. Hogan, in turn, questioned whether Brown’s plan to pay for the expansion with casino revenue would work.
“He never said he didn’t support universal pre-K,” said Margaret E. Williams, executive director of the Maryland Family Network. “He just wanted to know how to pay for it. And that’s a fair question.”
Even with a Republican in the governor’s mansion, the Democratic-controlled legislature in Annapolis will continue to wield a great deal of power.
Charly Carter, executive director of Maryland Working Families, said that having a Republican governor could galvanize progressive legislators.
“We have an opportunity to show just how strong we are,” she said. “It’s time for us to organize, for us to really start working together.”
Ian Shapira contributed to this report.