Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr. is only the second Republican governor in historically deeply “blue” Maryland in nearly 50 years, having run on a platform of fiscal restraint, tax relief and job creation; he won 20 of 23 counties by a 35-percent margin. A successful businessman for more than than 25 years, Hogan’s frustration with out-of-touch leadership in the State capitol led him to found Change Maryland, the largest nonpartisan organization in state history dedicated to fiscal responsibility in state government. Early in his term, he faced riots in Baltimore and then a personally devastating diagnosis of Stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He powered on with his agenda. Today, the Governor is in complete remission and focused on responsible spending, tax relief, and long-term financial stability. inFOCUS Editor Shoshana Bryen had an opportunity to ask him how he does it.
inFOCUS: You are a VERY popular Republican Governor in a VERY Democratic State. What were you telling voters – before you were elected, before you had a track record to point to – that encouraged them to pull a lever they probably hadn’t really thought about before? Why did they trust you? What were the most important issues to Maryland voters in 2014?
Larry Hogan: During my campaign for governor, I stayed focused on the issues that most Marylanders cared about – job creation and turning around our economy. Everywhere I went, people were very frustrated with politics-as-usual in our state, and they felt a huge disconnect between Annapolis [the State capitol] and the rest of Maryland. Many felt like the people who had been elected to solve our financial problems were actually part of the problem and not the solution.
I had never held elected office before and I am not a career politician, I’m a lifelong small business owner. I think people were tired of entrenched politicians and wanted their state government to be run more like a business, which is exactly what I have done since the start of my term.
iF: How did you begin your formal relations with the Democrats in State government and has that relationship changed over the course of legislative sessions? How do you frame political discourse to encourage Democrats to engage? At one point in the session, a legislator said, “There are assaults going on on our black communities. We are not going to take it anymore… We know what’s going on, and we are going to retaliate.” He was talking about you. The Washington Post came to your defense, but how do you get past that?
LH: I have always said that you can disagree without being disagreeable. Marylanders do not want to see their elected officials locked in the same kind of partisan gridlock that they see in Congress. I don’t care whether an idea is a Republican idea or a Democratic idea – I’m focused on creating an environment in Annapolis where the best ideas rise to the top based upon their merit, not which side of the aisle they come from.
But I was also elected to deliver change to a state that desperately needed it. I’m not interested in maintaining the same failed status quo. And I think Marylanders are happy that I am doing exactly what I said I would do, and we’re turning things around for our state.
iF: Can you talk about redistricting? Is there any chance that a Democratic legislature will consider an independent body that will likely reduce its majority?
LH: Without a doubt, an overwhelming majority of Marylanders support a fair and independent redistricting process. Marylanders want to pick their elected officials; they don’t want politicians picking their constituents.
This is not a Republican issue or Democratic issue. It calls to our role as public servants to make decisions that are in the best interest of the people whom we are elected to serve, not that are in the best interest of our own political gain.
iF: Maryland added 19,300 jobs in March; 63,200 since January 2015. What is the most important thing the Governor’s office could do/can do in the future to promote employment and economic growth?
LH: We are extremely proud of the progress we are making to turn around our economy and put people back to work. In fact, we are growing jobs at one of the fastest rates in the entire country. When I first became governor, I declared that Maryland was “Open for Business,” making it clear that we wanted to create an environment that was friendly to job creators, with a renewed emphasis on customer service.
It’s our job to foster an economic climate that makes businesses want to come to and expand in Maryland – not chase them away through excessive taxes and overregulation. Through our efforts to provide tax relief and reduce burdensome regulations, we’re focused on making Maryland a top destination for job creators and expanding our highly skilled workforce.
iF: Politico said, “Gov. Larry Hogan has completely changed the conversation about spending and taxes in Annapolis. The governor’s fiscal year 2017 budget reduces the size of government while allocating money to key priorities.” How did you change Maryland’s situation? Is it something other states can also do?
LH: One day after being sworn in, we submitted the first structurally balanced budget in a decade. This year, we passed the fiscal year 2017 budget two weeks early, something that is almost unheard of in Annapolis. And we were able to provide record investments for education and long-neglected infrastructure projects, without resorting to the budget trickery and gimmicks that have been used in the past to paper over our financial problems and while still providing much-needed tax relief to struggling Maryland families and small businesses.
We’ve made incredible progress in a short period of time, and I’m very proud of the hard work that’s been done to put our state on solid financial footing. However, there is still more work to be done and now is not the time to abandon the fiscally responsible, common sense principles that we have instituted.
For eight years, we consistently over-borrowed and over-mandated spending. In spite of our efforts so far to balance the budget, by FY 2021, Maryland will be required to spend $3 billion more per year than we do today due to mandates. Mandated spending accounts for 83% of our entire operating budget, driving unsustainable spending and putting the budget on auto-pilot for massive spending increases that we simply cannot afford. We must continue to push for mandate relief to ensure that leaders have the flexibility to trim excessive cost increases in tough times, and prevent potential economic instability.
iF: Public Sector reform: do we need it? Can we have it?
LH: I believe we do need it, which is why recently I announced the formation of the Governor’s Office of Transformation and Renewal. State government as it stands today is unwieldy and unmanageable, and simply needs to be better organized in order to provide better services, at a better value, to our taxpayers.
It’s been forty years since the last major reorganization of the executive branch. Over the last four decades, our state government has become increasingly more cumbersome. Our multi-year effort will enhance government departments and agencies within the executive branch, with a focus on efficiency improvements, greater accountability and performance benchmarks, and improved customer service.
iF: The Criminal Justice bill was a huge change in emphasis – and Republicans nationally seem to be in the forefront of criminal justice reform. Where did you start? How did you create this bill? Can you talk about the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council?
LH: The Justice Reinvestment Act was one of the biggest accomplishments of the last session and was the most comprehensive criminal justice reform passed in a generation. This bill is a great example of bipartisanship and working across the aisle to come up with innovative solutions to problems that have plagued communities for generations. By investing more in drug treatment and incarcerating non-violent inmates less, this law provides significant cost-savings for taxpayers while reducing recidivism and providing help and support to those who want to turn their lives around.
iF: You have a multiple jurisdiction problem – as do many governors. How do you resolve such issues as Metro funding or Chesapeake Bay cleanup? Metro, in particular, needs help. Are you willing to consider a dedicated revenue stream for it? Are you considering changing Maryland’s representatives on the Metro Board? The Federal Government changed theirs for people with transportation expertise.
LH: Maryland benefits greatly from its location in the Delmarva [Delaware, Maryland, Virginia] region and proximity to Washington, DC. Along with those advantages however come some issues that we simply cannot solve on our own. I’m proud to have brought together stakeholders from the environmental and agricultural communities just weeks after being sworn in as governor to pass the most important environmental initiative to clean up the Chesapeake Bay in a generation. However, it is important to work with surrounding states and jurisdictions to ensure that we are all focused on improving the health of what is, without question, a true national treasure.
With respect to Metro, Maryland is working closely with Virginia and Washington, DC to come up with a solution to the decades-long problems that have plagued the system. Collaboration between our three jurisdictions is crucial to ensure the safety and security of WMATA, and we are partnering together in an oversight commission that will help ensure millions of Metro riders have access to a world-class public transportation system.
iF: You got good press for your handling of the Baltimore riots and your relationship with the Mayor of Baltimore. Can you first talk about how you made the short-term, immediate decision to impose the state of emergency? Can you now talk about your long term plans and policies to benefit the disaffected people in Baltimore and other low-income urban areas in the state?
LH: At that time my immediate priority was to restore calm and safety to the city as quickly as possible. We issued a state of emergency, called in the National Guard, and instituted a citywide curfew. I knew that in order to prevent further damage and protect innocent lives, we had to act swiftly and decisively, which is what I aimed to do.
Since then, we have been focused on working with the city to provide state support and tackle many of the long-standing issues that Baltimore has had for decades. We’ve invested $135 million to completely transform and improve the city’s entire transit system. We closed down the notorious Baltimore City Jail. We instituted Project C.O.R.E., a partnership with the city to demolish vacant, decaying buildings and replace them with green space, affordable housing, and economic development. We’ve invested record amounts of funding in city schools, fought for charter schools and more education options for city students. Through these and many other initiatives, we are committed to creating opportunities in areas of Baltimore where opportunity is scarce.
But it’s not just Baltimore City where people feel there are less opportunities for a good education or a good-paying job. Many people in the rural parts of our state – in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, and the Eastern Shore – also feel that their opportunities are limited. This past session, I introduced legislation that would create zones where businesses could operate, tax-free, to provide more opportunities for jobs and economic development in parts of the state with the highest unemployment. Although the legislature blocked our efforts, I will continue to push for these kinds of innovative measures that will have a direct impact on the lives of the most vulnerable Marylanders.
iF: Governor Hogan, on behalf of our readers, let me thank you for a most enlightening conversation and wish you well personally and professionally as you hold down that most rare of positions – a popular Republican in a Democrat state.