Woody Woodruff, a former opinion page editor of the Prince George’s Journal, is a volunteer with Progressive Maryland.
A couple dozen Democrats have endorsed Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in Maryland’s upcoming gubernatorial election. The “Democrats for Hogan” are mostly older, white men.
The geography of the endorsements, map-wise and mentally, is also telling; these Democrats mostly are from the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and Anne Arundel and Carroll counties — places where party allegiance has been and remains fluid. Anne Arundel’s Robert R. Neall has carried a D and an R after his name at different points in his political career.
Two factors need a closer look. First, the “Democrats for Hogan” are the tip of a rotten iceberg: The state’s Democrats, including the local central committees, are riddled with business-entangled elected types who have been slow to warm up to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous.
Second, Hogan’s popularity masks an administration that caters to the business community for whom party comes a very distant second to money. Working families are collateral damage from this relationship.
Hogan, as Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s (R) appointments secretary back in the day, had his pick of Ehrlich retreads to populate his own satrapies and took advantage of it. And while Hogan fronted a sunny-day regime for a state still riding the Obama economic boom, a distinctly pro-business bias suffused the most powerful and consequential departments, emphatically including the Maryland Department of the Environment. The MDE’s smooth-talking honcho, Ben Grumbles, a rare import without Ehrlich ties, has presided over significant rollbacks of pollution and carbon controls.
Hogan was overridden by the General Assembly several times for his veto of measures that aim to increase the state’s commitment to renewable energy sources and the jobs that would ensue.
Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn shamelessly pushes Hogan’s agenda of more roads and less mass transit.
Local governments around the state have reason to remember the way Hogan’s stacking of regulatory commissions and other bodies has coddled big business and stymied local planning. His appointments to the Public Service Commission rubber-stamped the merger of Exelon and state power companies, meaning local ratepayers will probably wind up paying for the outrageously expensive decommissioning of Exelon’s aged-out nuclear plants. And the new Prince George’s County hospital’s ability to serve a broad swath of the public was severely crippled by one Hogan appointee to a health-care regulatory commission, carrying out the mandate of the Heritage Foundation whence he came.
These pro-business Democrats have been helping Hogan in the legislature, too. Early in Hogan’s term, for instance, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (Anne Arundel) torpedoed a progressive measure that would have created a commission to refashion the state’s economy to reduce dependence on Pentagon spending and jump aboard the post-carbon future. Instead, they peremptorily created a pro-business commission headed by the retired chief executive of Lockheed Martin to find ways to make Maryland more business-friendly. General Assembly leadership then rapidly packaged and passed the recommendations, including tax relief for businesses.
By contrast, the long struggle to enact paid sick leave for Maryland’s 700,000 uncovered workers took at least five years to get out of the General Assembly, where pro-business Democrats sandbagged it year after year — and finally required an override of Hogan’s veto.
It would not be entirely a surprise that many Maryland Democrats, existentially tight with corporations and business interests, might stay quiet on the sidelines in a tilt between Hogan and Jealous, long a progressive champion. They might be surprised how that would affect their own reelection chances in the post-Bernie Sanders environment.
Between his cheery frontman stance and his centrist (including Democratic) enablers, Hogan indeed seems to have what Herb Smith, a professor of politics at McDaniel College, described as “a cloaking device or something.” The real Hogan, with his supportive corporate-entangled Democrats and all, is (at least for now) distinctly under the political radar.