Republican Larry Hogan, who is in a surprisingly close race for governor in deep-blue Maryland, said Thursday that if elected he would be playing “goalie” to stop the Democrat-led General Assembly from passing more bad legislation.
Although he would be unable to repeal liberal measures already on the books, he said, his agenda would focus almost exclusively on lowering taxes and improving the state economy.
In a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, Mr. Hogan outlined his opposition to a litany of measures enacted during the eight years his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, served alongside Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Those measures included one of the strictest gun control laws in the country, the legalization of medical marijuana, driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and the authorization of speed limit cameras. Mr. Hogan said he wouldn’t even try to push repeal bills through the legislature, which has a veto-proof Democratic majority in both chambers.
“Right now it’s an open net. It’s just every single crazy thing that they want to get in just gets done,” said Mr. Hogan. “One major thing we can do is play goalie. There’s not going to be a huge offensive game. We’re going to be able to score here and there and we’re going to stop bad things from happening and continuing to drive our state into the ground.”
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He said that trying to take on Medicaid or powerful labor unions, as Republican governors have done in other states, would be a “fool’s errand.”
“We’re going to try to win the battles we can win. That’s tough enough as it is,” said Mr. Hogan. “It’s baby steps in Maryland.”
The battles he put in the winnable column included cutting government spending, rolling back some of the 40 tax increases enacted during Mr. Brown’s tenure, easing regulatory burdens and creating a more business-friendly climate that would stop employers from fleeing the state.
Using Maryland governors’ powerful budget authority, Mr. Hogan said, he would implement a 5 percent spending cut in his first budget and provide tax relief with the $2 billion in savings.
Mr. Hogan said he would not make the same mistakes as Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who was elected in 2002 as the state’s first Republican governor in 36 years and encountered stubborn resistance from the legislature at every turn.
“He’s a competitive guy who was a football player, a linebacker who liked to hit people. So the two of them were just pounding [each other] and a lot of things didn’t get done,” said Mr. Hogan, who served in Mr. Ehrlich’s Cabinet.
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“He’s a great guy and a good friend. I’m not trying to be critical,” he said. “It wasn’t really all his fault. It was mostly the Democrats’ fault.”
Mr. Hogan said his 30 years of experience as a commercial real estate broker gave him the deal-making skills to work effectively with the legislature. “I’m a negotiator,” he said.
Mr. Hogan’s agenda on taxes and the economy is the cornerstone of his campaign. He reminds voters that under the current administration, Maryland lost over 31,000 jobs, more than 6,500 small business either closed or left the state and the unemployment rate doubled. He promises to reverse these trends.
“Old Bay is potentially going to be made in Pennsylvania now,” Mr. Hogan said of the signature seasoning of McCormick & Co., which has been in Maryland since 1889 but is preparing to move.
“It’s tragic. That’s the thing we’ve got to stop. Maryland is going down the tubes,” Mr. Hogan said.
He said McCormick’s board of directors told him the spice company might stay if he wins the election.
Mr. Hogan faces an uphill race to get to the governor’s mansion, though he is closing in on Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown led Mr. Hogan 49 percent to 42 percent last week in a Baltimore Sun poll. His 7-point advantage is much smaller than generally expected in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin.
Mr. Hogan said his campaign’s internal polls have put him as close as 3 points behind Mr. Brown, within the margin of error. Mr. Hogan did not show the poll to The Times.
He said his message of lowering taxes and strengthening the economy resonates with voters from both major parties in Maryland and has helped him make inroads into Democratic strongholds, including blue-collar neighborhoods in eastern Baltimore County.
“Even liberal Democrats are like, ‘Enough is enough. We just can’t take it anymore,’” he said. “People are saying, ‘I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life. But we’ve got to do something about these taxes.’”
He said Mr. Brown suffers from an “enthusiasm gap” that he would compound with a sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation.
“He’s going to have a hard time getting his voters out, and we’re getting ours,” he said.
Unlike in much of the country, President Obama remains relatively popular in Maryland with about a 50 percent job approval rating. That has kept Mr. Hogan from making the president and his policies issues in the governor’s race.
Mr. Obama plans to campaign Sunday with Mr. Brown in Prince George’s County.
Mr. Hogan has been hammering Mr. Brown for being in charge of the rollout of Maryland’s Obamacare exchange, which cost $288 million and then completely broke down. Maryland ultimately adopted the exchange created by Connecticut, at additional cost.
“Even people who like the president and like the Affordable Care Act are angry at Anthony Brown and Martin O’Malley for failing so miserably,” he said.