- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan became the first Republican governor to win re-election in the state since the 1950s, rolling to victory Tuesday over Democrat Ben Jealous in a race the governor said puts a red hue on a formerly deep blue state.

Now, he says, it’s time to spread the red, flexing his muscle on major political battles such as the upcoming redistricting process.

The Associated Press called the race for the 62-year-old governor at 9:07 p.m. — one bright spot for the GOP in what was expected to be an electoral bloodbath for Republican-held governor’s mansions across the country.

“Four years ago, we ushered in a new era of bipartisanship,” Mr. Hogan told supporters Tuesday evening. “I’m proud we’re setting an example for the rest of America.”

Mr. Hogan won easily in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin, avoiding entanglements in hot-button social issues and focusing on the state’s business climate and local concerns such as traffic congestion. He also wasn’t shy about distancing himself from President Trump on touchy immigration policy questions.

“It’s still a Democratic state, but we’ve made it a place that can be competitive,” Mr. Hogan told The Washington Times in the run-up to Election Day.

He touted his ability to hold the line on taxes during his first term, said he’ll push for more accountability in education spending, and keep a focus on environmental stewardship.

But he said he’ll also invest second-term political capital on redistricting, which states will do after the 2020 census, redrawing state and congressional legislative districts.

Democrats who controlled the process the last go-around gerrymandered the lines to ensure only a single Republican-leaning district.

Mr. Hogan says he wants an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission to take the reins going forward.

He said both parties are guilty of trying to rig legislative maps, but that Maryland’s recent history is particularly infamous.

“It’s not just on our congressional districts,” he said. “We’re also talking about doing this for legislative districts, which is in some ways even more important and even more impacted, but in both cases, we want to just draw fair, compact districts that make sense as opposed to these crazy things.”

Mr. Hogan has routinely sent proposals to set up an independent commission to the Democrat-controlled state assembly but says lawmakers refuse to take it up.

“Almost everybody’s in favor of it — except the people that are drawing the lines for themselves,” Mr. Hogan said. “The legislature refused to even bring it up for a vote. We’re going to continue to push for it — we’re going to introduce it again in January.”

The legislature did pass a redistricting bill in 2017 that would put the process in the hands of an independent panel — as long as a handful of other states in the region also agree to do the same — but Mr. Hogan vetoed it, calling it a political ploy.

Mr. Hogan says he should have better luck getting cooperation now, because under the current system, as governor he will have a significant say in how the lines are drawn. Democrats may conclude they’d get a better deal from an independent commission.

“If not, at least we’re going to continue to draw them in a non-partisan way and it will become a battle, then, between the executive branch trying to make some meaningful reforms and changes and the legislature fighting to try to keep things the way they are,” he said.

He acknowledged the fight could spill into the courts but said he hopes it doesn’t get to that point.

“We’re going to push to take it out of the hands of the politicians and let the people pick their representatives rather than these representatives picking their own constituents,” he said.

Democrats could very well take a look at the situation during the next legislative session in January and simply decide to give Mr. Hogan a win, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

“Say they refuse to do it, so Hogan does redistricting,” Mr. Eberly said. “Hogan puts forward a map that is quite clearly non-partisan, it’s not gerrymandered, it gives you nice, clean, crisp districts and everything, and the assembly rejects it and substitutes a clearly gerrymandered map in its stead - the optics of that are horrible for them.”

Beyond redistricting, Mr. Hogan says he’s proud of the $25 billion in investments the state has put into K-12 education but he wants to increase accountability on how those dollars are spent over the next four years.

He pointed to the grade-fixing scandal in Prince George’s County, saying the state Board of Education investigated the wrongdoing but ended up being basically powerless to make sweeping corrections.

“We have some of the best schools in America, but we’ve also got some real differentiation between some of the schools that aren’t performing as well and we want to fix some of our persistently failing schools with all that investment of money,” he said.

Other priorities for a second term include additional tax relief, notably on retirement income, continued investments in highway and transit projects, and pressuring Pennsylvania, New York, and the EPA to do more to help keep the Chesapeake Bay clean amid runoff issues from the Susquehanna River flowing south.

Mr. Hogan also said people appreciated his inaugural address nearly four years ago, when he talked about ushering in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

“They want balance and they like the results of divided government and compromise, and having checks and balances. They’re voting for me in spite of the fact that I’m a Republican, rather than because I’m a Republican,” he said.

Julia Shultz, 30, said Tuesday that Mr. Hogan’s opposition to President Trump in some cases was a positive for her, a registered Democrat.

“Any Republican who goes against Trump is a good thing,” she said, adding that he has a better grasp on the issues than Ben Jealous, his Democratic opponent.

Another voter, Cindy Love, said she supports Democrats nationally but gave Mr. Hogan her vote.

“He’s been willing to step away from Trump and work in a bipartisan fashion,” she said.

Mr. Hogan will become chairman of the National Governors Association in July, and he says he plans to work with his colleagues in both parties to try to change the “dialogue and discussion” in politics and find ways for Democrats and Republicans to work together to get things done.

He called Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — another popular GOP governor in a blue state who easily won re-election Tuesday — a “good friend,” and noted that the two men have the highest approval ratings in the country.

“People are going to say ‘what are they doing there that maybe we should take a look at?’” he said. “I think continuing to set an example in Maryland and continuing to do the things that we have been doing - [it] is good to be part of the dialogue and to point to our states and to say, this is how democracy is supposed to work and this is maybe a better model for us to take a look at.”

• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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