- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2017


Maryland Democratic leaders are trying to tie Larry Hogan to Donald Trump, saying the popular Republican governor is “missing in action” on issues and policies emerging from the less-popular Republican president.

The state party is trying to chip away at Mr. Hogan’s mild-mannered, moderate image as a host of Democrats line up to challenge and unseat the governor in next year’s election.

“I think a lot of people think he is a nice guy, and I understand that,” Kathleen Matthews, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, told The Washington Times. “Our job is to show people the real Larry Hogan and show them the real Larry Hogan record.”

Ms. Matthews accused Mr. Hogan of being “missing in action” and not doing enough to defend Marylanders or speak against federal policies that would affect state residents. She cited job growth as a major area where the governor has not been proactive enough.

This month, the state Democratic Party released a report with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that Marylanders are making $1.14 less an hour than they were at the beginning of Mr. Hogan’s term in 2015. The report also showed a 3.56 percent job increase rate in Maryland since the beginning of Mr. Hogan’s term — lower than the national rate of 4.14 percent and Virginia’s rate of 4.08 percent.

“Larry Hogan should not be taking credit for growth at this point,” Ms. Matthews said. “Maryland is falling behind.”

But Russ Schriefer, the governor’s senior strategist, said there is good news for the jobs situation in Maryland.

“Maryland has gone from being the least job friendly state to much, much more friendly. More Marylanders are working,” Mr. Schriefer said.

In addition, Amelia Chassé, Mr. Hogan’s deputy communications director, said Monday in a written statement: “When Governor Hogan took office, Maryland’s economy was in extremely bad shape. After 40 consecutive tax, toll, and fee hikes, our state had lost nearly 100,000 jobs and 8,000 businesses had either left or closed their doors.

“Since the governor took office in January 2015, Maryland has created over 106,000 new jobs, the rate of unemployment is at its lowest point in a decade, and the average Maryland family has seen its weekly wages increase,” she said.

A businessman and political novice, Mr. Hogan ran his campaign on a pro-business, anti-tax platform that he has tried to realize in his administration despite opposition by the Democrat-led General Assembly. He has provided tax breaks for manufacturers to set up shop in Maryland and reduced or eliminated millions of dollars in fees that affected small businesses, single parents, veterans, retirees and other groups.

The Maryland Democratic Party chair railed against Mr. Hogan’s response to the national drama surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

The governor’s office remained mostly silent for months while a new health care bill circulated through Congress. After the Senate Republicans’ effort to kill Obamacare died this month, Mr. Hogan tweeted a signed statement from a bipartisan alliance of governors.

“The Senate should immediately reject efforts to ‘repeal’ the current system and replace sometime later,” read the statement, which was signed by 11 governors, including Mr. Hogan. “It is critically important that governors are brought to the table to provide input, and we stand ready to work with lawmakers in an open, bipartisan way to provide better insurance for all Americans.”

Ms. Matthews said Mr. Hogan should have come out stronger against the president’s attempt to gut the health care law.

“Hogan was late to the table, and he was wishy-washy to his opposition to this,” Ms. Matthews said. “We deserve a governor that will fight for Marylanders against the Trump administration when the Trump administration puts forth policies that hurt Marylanders.”

Mr. Schriefer, a strategist on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, defended the Maryland governor’s choice to keep quiet. He said it was not Mr. Hogan’s job to provide commentary about the goings-on in Washington.

“It’s been his position all along that there was going to be a lot of twists and turns to the health care debate and there was no point in commenting on every little minutia,” the Republican strategist said. “He’s been concentrating on issues that he has control over.”

Mr. Schriefer also rejected any attempts to link Mr. Hogan to Mr. Trump, citing the governor’s approval ratings. In a state where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by a margin of 2-to-1, Mr. Hogan has a 65 percent approval rating, according to a March poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland. His approval rating has fallen only slightly, from 71 percent, when he was battling cancer early in his term.

“His position is always that good government makes good politics and that the way you put yourself in the best position to be re-elected is by governing well,” Mr. Schriefer said. “Gov. Hogan is the second most popular governor in the country, and he’s done that because he’s worked hard to focus on the problems of the people in Maryland. Outside of the leadership of the Democratic Party in Maryland, most Marylanders see that.”

Ms. Chassé said in a written statement: “Governor Hogan has repeatedly called on Congress to work together to achieve common sense, bipartisan solutions to improve our healthcare system. Since convening a meeting with Maryland’s Congressional delegation in January, the governor has been urging our federal representatives to work across the aisle and find common ground.”

Meanwhile, the field for the Democratic gubernatorial primary in June is quickly growing, with as many as 15 declared or potential candidates eyeing the race.

Those who have announced their candidacies include state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., former NAACP chief Ben Jealous, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, tech entrepreneur Alec Ross, Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea and perennial candidate Ralph Jaffe.

Those reportedly considering a gubernatorial bid include Rep. John K. Delaney, Attorney General Brian Frosh, state Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, former state Delegate Heather Mizeur, former Howard County executive Kenneth Ulman, wine merchant David Trone and policy consultant Maya Rockeymoore, wife of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings.

Some candidates already have begun robust campaigns, holding fundraisers and events around the state. Mr. Jealous accepted this month the formal endorsement of Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and a leader of the national Democratic Party’s progressive wing.

The Maryland Democratic Party’s “Summer of Resistance and Renewal” campaign kicked off this month, with party members canvassing the state and registering voters.

Ms. Matthews, who last year lost her bid for the state party’s nomination for a U.S. Senate seat, said the summer campaign took its name from the party’s resistance to Mr. Trump and Mr. Hogan’s policies. Their strategy is first to listen to voters and then lead them to the polls.

“I think there’s a lot of passion similar to mine about restoring Democratic governance to the state,” Ms. Matthews said. “I think we’re going to see a new narrative in 2018.”

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