HAVING CAMPAIGNED in 2014 on a platform by turns vague, glib and pie-in-sky, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan shifted gears and struck a clear and bracing note on the day he took office, promising in his inaugural address to surmount partisanship and wedge politics in favor of what he called a bipartisan politics of “middle temperament.” That was January 2015, before anyone foresaw the rise of Donald Trump. To his immense credit, Mr. Hogan, a Republican in a state where Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 advantage, has largely fulfilled that pledge, rejecting what he called “the extremes of either political party” and taking a pragmatic, centrist approach to leadership that has been a tonic in a venomous era.
What Mr. Hogan lacked, and continues to lack, in terms of a vision for Maryland’s future, he has made up for by brokering non-doctrinaire solutions, at odds in some cases with the narrow interests of his base of rural and exurban GOP voters. His stock in trade is neither charisma nor inspiring rhetoric, but few doubt his political acumen in keeping President Trump at arm’s length while holding the state’s Republicans close. In an era of boorishness, divisiveness and ad hominem attacks, his comportment in office has been civil and businesslike.
We didn’t support him when he ran for governor in 2014. We do now. Mr. Hogan deserves a second term.
None of that is to disparage his Democratic rival, Ben Jealous, a former community activist and head of the NAACP, who has run a passionate, substantive campaign, drawing energy and policy proposals from his party’s tilt to the left, and funds from unions and liberal activists. Mr. Jealous’s platform is ambitious, expansive — and costly: universal health care and prekindergarten; debt-free college; free community college; a statewide $15 minimum wage; a 29 percent raise for teachers.
Unlike some free-spending Democratic candidates, who barely bother to explain how they would afford their programs, Mr. Jealous has identified funding sources for his plans: legalize and tax marijuana; impose a surtax on the wealthiest 1 percent; raise the cigarette tax; close corporate tax loopholes; reduce spending on prisons by overhauling the criminal-justice system.
The trouble is, much of his program is politically unrealistic, and some is unwise. By soaking the rich, who are concentrated in Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous locality, he would drive some to move across the Potomac River to Virginia; that would hurt poor residents by shrinking the revenue base on which the county’s public schools and services depend. His single-payer health-care plan, under which the state would pay nearly all medical bills, proved unaffordable in Vermont even before it could be implemented.
Mr. Jealous is partly correct that Maryland’s economy, though strong, has failed to keep pace in job creation with Virginia’s. However, it’s hard to blame that on Mr. Hogan, who has steered a steady course on budgetary and fiscal matters, generally avoiding big fights and compromising with Democrats who control the legislature in Annapolis. Having finessed unrealistic campaign promises to slash an array of taxes and spending — the state’s outlays are now 10 percent higher than when he took office — Mr. Hogan has proved his pragmatism repeatedly.
He campaigned as a skeptic on mass transit, appealing to Republican voters who prefer roads to rail. In office, he changed his tune to support two critical projects: the light-rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs, which he once dismissed as unaffordable; and Metro, for which the governor’s surprise backing for a long-term funding source was a catalyst for a regional deal with Virginia and the District of Columbia that will yield $500 million annually in earmarked new revenue.
Mr. Hogan’s critics dismiss those moves, and others, as political opportunism — a Republican’s gyrations to curry Democratic support. That’s one way to see things. Another is that the governor has had the agility and sense to govern as a moderate — that disappearing breed of American politician — and that it took guts for him to back the Purple Line and Metro, commitments that will cost billions of dollars.
True, there are some incompletes on Mr. Hogan’s report card. Responding to Mr. Trump’s sabotage of Obamacare, Mr. Hogan worked with Democrats in Annapolis to enact a temporary health-care market reinsurance program to keep premiums down. He needs to follow up by making the program permanent and mending other holes Washington Republicans have ripped in the health-care law. Reimposing Obamacare’s individual mandate, which requires everyone to carry health coverage, would be a crucial step.
Similarly, Mr. Hogan helped defuse the riots in Baltimore following Freddie Gray’s death after a police van ride in 2015. Yet it is not enough to suggest, as he has, that Baltimore’s appalling murder rate over the past three years is mainly the mayor’s problem. And while the governor was bold last year to propose $9 billion to add dozens of miles of toll lanes to the Capital Beltway, Interstate 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Marylanders are waiting for his administration to fill in the blanks of how any of that will happen.
Residents of the state tell pollsters overwhelmingly they think it is headed in the right direction. Mr. Hogan doesn’t deserve all the credit for that — he has the good fortune to lead during boom times — but he is clearly part of the good news. In polarized times, he has stuck to the political middle, from where he has fashioned agreements that will benefit millions of Marylanders. That’s no easy feat.