It wasn’t a good week for bipartisanship in Annapolis.
In a major address, Maryland’s new Republican governor chided Democrats for the “floundering” economy. Democrats declared the governor’s proposed tax cuts dead on arrival and said his priorities were misplaced. And to underline their dismay, Democrats delayed confirmation of five Cabinet nominees.
Less than three weeks after the swearing-in of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) brought two-party rule back to the capital, partisan feuding had returned as well. Glowing talk from the inauguration about working across the aisle suddenly seemed elusive.
Lawmakers said they had reached a key juncture: Relationships could continue to unravel — as they did under the state’s last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Or, faced with a frustrated electorate and a $700 million budget shortfall, Hogan and the Democratic-controlled legislature could find ways to compromise so that both sides could declare victory on issues they care about.
“The honeymoon is definitely over, and people are trying to figure how we can move forward,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery). “This is not an unsalvageable situation, but we need to reset the tone.”
Hogan and his boosters said the week laid bare growing pains in a capital where Democrats are accustomed to controlling the governorship and the legislature. Hogan, they said, is merely trying to follow through on a message of fiscal responsibility that he preached during the campaign.
“Given the reason we have a Republican governor is what the Democrats have done in the past, I think they will find a way to work with Governor Hogan,” said former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael S. Steele (R).
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the new governor remains committed to working with Democrats, who hold commanding majorities in the House and Senate. “The fact is, many great accomplishments have only been achieved after tough negotiations,” Mayer said. “And that is exactly what we are expecting the outcome here to be as well.”
Democrats are furious at the tone of Hogan’s maiden State of the State speech, in which he offered a dire assessment of Maryland’s economy to a statewide television audience. He criticized the “high taxes, over-regulation and an anti-business attitude” of the past eight years and bemoaned an “exodus of taxpayers fleeing our state.” He claimed that Maryland — one of the wealthiest states in the country — was “dead last” in manufacturing and said its economic performance was among the nation’s worst.
To many Democrats in the chamber, it sounded like the governor was “trash-talking our state,” Raskin said. Hogan, he said, seemed to forget he was addressing “a group of people who feel like they’ve given their all over the last many years.”
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the speech amounted to “poking a stick in the eye of the people you need. . . . It makes it harder to build a consensus for the next four years.”
Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has known Hogan for decades and considers him a friend. He said he was caught off guard by the tone and substance of Hogan’s remarks, which included proposals to undo some tax increases enacted by Democrats, expand charter schools and help parochial schools, and reexamine efforts to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Miller said he had reached out to Hogan the day before his speech and stressed his desire to work collaboratively.
“I said, ‘Governor, we can make this work,’ ” Miller said. “ ‘You can govern well. I’m going to introduce you to all my members. I’m going to have you meet with them individually.’ And so I was blindsided by the speech.”
Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert), a former minority leader, said a “feeling-out process” is to be expected. He said Democratic legislative leaders should stay focused on policy issues — and on the pocketbook concerns that voters expressed by choosing Hogan over Democrat Anthony G. Brown — rather than bruised feelings.
“We have fiscal problems that need fixing,” O’Donnell said. “The citizens have spoken and said they want them fixed and here’s who they want to fix them. So we’ve all got work to do. All this talk about who struck whom is not helpful.”
Democrats say their top goal is to defeat Hogan’s proposal to slow the growth in funding for K-12 education. While Hogan’s budget would allocate a record amount for primary and secondary schools next year, he proposes $144 million less than is called for under current funding formulas.
Busch said House Democrats are “absolutely, 100 percent” committed to finding other savings in the budget so that they can restore the $144 million for education.
And in the Senate, Miller said lawmakers are not inclined to consider any Hogan tax cuts until the governor “fully funds education.”
Hogan advisers suggested that both sides are staking out ground for negotiations as the 90-day legislative session continues. It is possible, for example, that Hogan will agree to higher education spending if Democrats work with him on tax cuts.
And despite the acrimony, some lawmakers said in the past week that they remain hopeful there will be issues where the sides can work together. Raskin, for example, said he and Hogan share the goals of providing public financing for campaigns and making the process of congressional redistricting less political. Hogan talked about both issues in his State of the State address.
During Ehrlich’s four years, the majority party often sent him bills that lawmakers knew he was likely to veto. It remains to be seen whether Democrats will use the same tactic with Hogan.
Ehrlich vetoed 86 Democratic initiatives, including high-profile bills to raise the minimum wage and force Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health care — both of which he considered a burden on the business community. Lawmakers overrode about a quarter of the vetoes.
In an effort to get off to a better start with Hogan, Democratic leaders initially indicated that they were in no rush to send him bills they know he would not like. But chatter about that possibility picked up after Hogan’s speech.
Democrats pointed to several possibilities, including a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick leave and another to write into law regulations proposed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to limit the amount of chicken manure that farmers can spread on their fields as fertilizer. Hogan withdrew the proposed regulations after taking office.
Even though Democrats lost seats in both chambers in the last election, they have enough members to override Hogan vetoes if they stick together.
There also are subtler ways to send a message, such as what happened during Friday’s Senate session. At the suggestion of President Pro Tem Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore), the chamber delayed consideration of Hogan’s first five Cabinet nominees, including his budget and health secretaries.
“The speech certainly didn’t help,” McFadden said. “One has to respond.”