Larry Hogan considers himself a regular guy. He loves tailgating before football games, wearing jeans on weekdays and finding deals at Costco. Although he is the son of a former congressman who lives in a sprawling waterfront home, Hogan prefers to describe himself as a small-business owner who as a kid worked at Ocean City amusement parks for $1.35 an hour.
On Wednesday, this real estate executive who has never held elective office will become Maryland’s 62nd governor, a Republican who must work with a legislature controlled by Democrats to fulfill his campaign promises to slash spending and roll back taxes.
He pledges bipartisanship but does not hesitate to jab Democrats in speeches, and he says he will use his veto power when necessary to protect the Marylanders who elected him. “My loyalty, my focus, everything I do every single day will be geared toward what is best for those Maryland families and those struggling small businesses,” he said.
Starting Thursday, Hogan will unveil a budget proposal that will aim to bridge a $750 million revenue shortfall and, advisers say, take the state in a more austere direction after eight years of Democratic rule. Hogan has cautioned that some cuts will be painful — and lawmakers from the majority party are nervously watching to see who will feel that pain.
“Everything is in the wait-and-see mode, but the waiting is almost over,” said Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery), the House majority leader. “He’s promised to govern for the whole state, and we have to take his word for it — until we see the budget.”
Hogan, 58, describes himself as a laid-back workaholic. He’s punctual, nearly always arriving to events early and then killing time by chatting about his yo-yo-ing weight, his 2-year-old granddaughter and the news of the day. Those who work closely with him say he is blunt and competitive — but can also be goofy and lighthearted.
Robert R. Neall, a former state lawmaker who led the drafting of Hogan’s first budget, described the governor as ruthlessly efficient throughout the process. Starting in mid-November, a small team combed through the existing budget and compiled lists of cuts to present to Hogan. He listened, asked questions and then reviewed the list, Neall said, saying “Yup” or “No” for each proposal. Occasionally, he wanted a little more time to think.
A budget was ready for the printer by early January. But it was pulled back when outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the state’s Board of Public Works approved a late-in-the-game round of cuts.
“He’s a man who knows what he wants,” Neall said of Hogan. “Difficult decisions are unpleasant, and people have a natural tendency to postpone the unpleasant. . . . I think this governor has taken a different tactic. He wants to get a sustainable budget and a sustainable debt level as quickly as possible.”
Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the budget will start to make real for citizens what Hogan has spoken about in general terms for months. “He said, ‘Yes, let’s cut spending.’ . . . When he turns around and it’s education funding and tuition starts going up and projects that have broad public support are getting axed, we’ll see how people feel. Because they will say, ‘Well, I was all for cutting spending — but not that spending.’ ”
Hogan loves to be involved in the nitty-gritty — never more than when tending to the Facebook page for his cherished Change Maryland, a grass-roots organization he founded to “organize, inform and energize average Marylanders to fight back and to bring some much needed fiscal restraint and common sense to Annapolis.”
Mostly, the group criticized O’Malley.
In the early days, Hogan spent hours on Change Maryland’s Facebook page, studying which of his posts received the most comments and likes. He watched gleefully as the number of followers swelled from a handful to a few thousand.
After the election, Facebook officials invited Hogan and his team to the company’s D.C. office to discuss how the campaign had used the platform.
Hogan’s staff has slowly weaned him off Facebook, pushing him to focus his time on other responsibilities. But he still occasionally monitors the page to get a sense of what people are saying. “It’s sort of like old-fashioned, grass-roots politics — but on steroids for the modern era,” he said.
Hogan celebrated when the page hit 10,000 followers. Then someone pointed out that O’Malley had many more. “I was like: ‘I haven’t been the governor for eight years. I’m just a guy,’ ” Hogan said. He notes that he now has more than 130,000 followers on Facebook, while O’Malley has around 60,000.
Hogan has been hammering on one issue since winning: bipartisanship. He says that when he worked for the state’s last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., he learned that buy-in from Democrats in the legislature was essential to getting things done.
He has met a series of prominent Democrats for breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee since the election — always careful to post a chummy photo afterward on Facebook. He often takes them to his favorite restaurant, Harry Browne’s, a popular lobbyist hangout across the street from the statehouse.
“He understands that things get done by compromise and negotiation,” said James Brady, a close adviser who headed Hogan’s transition team. “His whole history as a real estate person is all about that, because in real estate, unless you compromise and negotiate, you don’t get paid.”
But Hogan says he cannot be the only one comprising. His victory, in which he carried all but a handful of jurisdictions, was proof — in his eyes — that he has a mandate to tax, spend and regulate less than his Democratic predecessor.
“I think they’re even starting to get the message,” Hogan said at a gathering of Republicans in Howard County in December. “They realize that we’ve got to try something different.”
Hogan’s public rhetoric does not always match his bipartisan pledge. At a Farm Bureau convention in Ocean City last month, he railed against new regulations limiting the amount of manure farmers can spread on their fields, saying Democrats had waged an “outright assault on our farmers and a war on rural Maryland” and declaring that he is prepared to pick “fights” on their behalf.
As governor, Hogan has the power to veto legislation — and there are now just enough Republicans lawmakers to ensure that Democrats cannot easily override a veto.
Hogan said last week that he plans to use his veto power, even if it means burning bridges with the Democratic lawmakers he has promised to cultivate. His ultimate loyalty, he said, is to the people who elected him.
“Every bill or action that crosses my desk will be put to a very simple test,” Hogan said at an economic-development conference Thursday in Annapolis. “Will this action make it easier for families and businesses to stay and prosper in Maryland? And will it make more families and more businesses want to come to Maryland and help us grow our economy?
“If it doesn’t meet that test, I will veto it. It’s that simple.”
Since his election, he crisscrossed the state for “thank-you tour” appearances: the Eastern Shore, Wisp ski resort in Western Maryland, Baltimore County and Southern Maryland. He has given lengthy interviews to conservative radio shows and small-town newspapers that endorsed him, often turning down requests from larger outlets or national news organizations that don’t regularly cover his state.
After the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board named Hogan “Marylander of the Year,” he sat down with reporters from that paper for a lengthy session. When confronted by a Washington Post reporter who had also been seeking an interview, he laughed and said: “You didn’t name me ‘Marylander of the Year.’ ”
As governor, Hogan will lead a bureaucracy of 50,000 employees and manage a budget of about $40 billion. Skeptics, and those frustrated by his refusal to articulate policy proposals before taking office, say they don’t know how he will do it.
“He doesn’t have a voting record. He doesn’t have any time in office,” said Del. Benjamin S. Barnes (D-Prince George’s). “It’s truly a blank slate.”
But Hogan says his experience in the private sector has taught him what he needs to know.
“I’m probably, in many ways, more prepared, more than anybody in the history of our state,” Hogan said Monday. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had a governor that actually ran anything before or had any experience in the private sector or had any idea how decisions impact people in the real world.”