THE FACT that Maryland may be the bluest state in the nation, with a Republican Party that is all but lifeless, is not an advantage to the Free State. The Democrats’ chokehold in Annapolis and the rarity of competitive elections have contributed to scant public interest in politics and the stunningly anemic turnout in this spring’s primaries.
So voters in the Free State had reason to hope for a dynamic contest of ideas in this year’s gubernatorial race between Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown , the Democratic candidate, and former state appointments secretary Larry Hogan, the Republican. Unfortunately, they didn’t get it.
Neither Mr. Brown, who has proffered modest but sketchily funded proposals, nor Mr. Hogan, whose glib economic plan amounts to mush, seems a good bet to inspire Maryland voters. Still, Mr. Brown is the more knowledgeable man and the more nimble politician; he would make a better governor. His record in public office is hardly unblemished — the disastrous rollout of the state’s health-care exchange was mismanaged under his watch. But Mr. Brown’s breadth of experience, coupled with the lack of credibility at the heart of Mr. Hogan’s program, inform our endorsement. So does Mr. Brown’s more substantial record of achievement in public life.
As lieutenant governor for eight years, Mr. Brown championed legislation cracking down on domestic abuse and promoting private financing of major transportation projects. By contrast, Mr. Hogan’s record of achievement in public office is slight.
Mindful that many Maryland voters feel overtaxed, and that the state is widely seen as hostile to business, Mr. Brown has laid out an agenda that blends caution and ambition. Its centerpiece is a plan to expand pre-kindergarten for thousands more 4-year-olds. He has also advocated expanding the state’s transit infrastructure, notably by building the Red Line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — projects Mr. Hogan opposes.
His proposal to pay for pre-K expansion is gauzy; he would tap future revenue from the state’s casinos, although most of that already is earmarked for existing public schools.
At the same time, Mr. Brown, like Mr. Hogan, is now promising to oppose any tax increases. Thus have both candidates limited their own flexibility, foreclosing the option of new revenue come what may.
If Mr. Brown’s agenda is modest, Mr. Hogan’s is incoherent. He pledges to cut taxes — for corporations, sales, retirees, gasoline, you name it — and he says he will seek a commensurate 5 percent cut in state spending; that’s roughly the amount by which Maryland slashed outlays during the recent recession.
The trouble is that Mr. Hogan’s ideas about spending cuts are slapdash. It turns out that his estimates of waste and mismanagement from past state audits are vastly inflated — or that he didn’t understand them in the first place.
That sort of sloppiness has been typical of Mr. Hogan, who often has seemed like he was winging it on the campaign trail. One day, pandering to retirees, he proposed cutting taxes on pensions — a measure that would cost the state 6 percent of its annual revenue from taxes. Later, he said it was just an aspiration.
Mr. Brown is the more serious and substantial candidate. He has a better grasp of how to operate the levers of government and how to bolster Maryland’s competitiveness while tending to basic needs.
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