UPDATED: “Get the Gov”: The Maryland Democrats’ Secret Playbook

Today Governor Larry Hogan gave his third State of the State Address. Personally, I found it a little dry (throw in some jokes or something!), but it tackled some important issues facing the State and ways that Democrats and Republicans can work together to get Maryland set on a future that preserves the State’s fiscal viability and grows the economy.

Even the most casual observer of Maryland politics knows that Maryland is a blue state with an overwhelmingly popular red Governor. In fact, most people in Maryland, outside of some very liberal and some very conservative enclaves, are fairly moderate. Perhaps, rather than “moderate,” we’d call them reasonable. They’re people of good-faith who understand that folks can come together for the common good and advance policies that, while not always in ideological lockstep with their National Party identity, can help average Marylanders succeed.

While we can praise this idyllic mean, wherein our citizen-legislators strive for compromise, we are, nonetheless confronted, more than ever, by that dark political vein that runs just below the surface of compromise.

Over the last eight years, Democrats, nationally, have lost over 1,030 seats in Statehouses, Governorships, and Congress. One of those seats was the Governorship of Maryland. Despite Governor Hogan’s willingness to engage with Democrats, his bold moves to curtail the Baltimore Riots, his diligent courting of business investment, and his cooperation with the State’s Democratic Comptroller on reliable fiscal policy, he is, nevertheless, a target of national Democrats in 2018.

Despite paying tacit lip service to working with the Governor on issues of common purpose, Democrats in Maryland’s General Assembly are trying everything they can to undermine Governor Hogan’s ability to steer the State towards responsible government. While this sort of rank partisans shouldn’t surprise anyone, let’s keep it in mind when we’re reviewing just how poorly Democrats are treating the Governor and his proposals.

The most recent criticism of the Governor, echoed across the Maryland Democratic Party (as if by some coordination beforehand—never!) is that Larry Hogan must constantly comment on issues coming out of the Trump White House and Washington DC. Here’s the Maryland Democrats’ secret: they don’t care what stance the Governor takes on Trump issues, as long as they get him to go on-record about them. If he sides with Trump, they’ll blast him in liberal circles and if he comes out against Trump (like he did in the 2016 elections), they will push that message to conservative Republicans who were frustrated with the Governor’s refusal to back Mr. Trump as the Republican nominee for President. Democrats hope that, either way, they can begin to peel back support for the Governor from either moderate Democrats or get disaffected Republicans to stay home.

It’s best not to let yourself be deceived here. These complaints about Governor Hogan not commenting on Federal issues has nothing to do with the federal issues themselves. Sure, the Democrats might care about the travel restrictions or the dismantling of Obamacare, but, the point isn’t the underlying issue. Rather, it’s an attempt at seizing the narrative and using it as a club against Governor Hogan’s reelection chances.

Why are Democrats afraid? Because Governor Hogan is popular and because that popularity could lead to a redistricting map if the Governor is reelected that will cause Maryland’s legislators (both in the State and Federally) to be more a representative political and social cross-section of the State.

It’s important to separate some of the fact from fiction over the Governor’s State of the State. First, the Governor has pledged to work with Democrats on issues where they both have common ground. This includes fighting the opioid epidemic as well as increasing economic opportunities for areas of the State left behind by manufacturing leaving in the past decades. The Governor has fully-funded education formulas passed by the General Assembly and has freed up money for school construction. Further, the Governor’s budget sets Maryland on a course of closing budget gaps and righting the financial ship. Importantly, Democrats and Republicans should work together to pass ethics reforms to prevent the embarrassment of members of the General Assembly resigning or being indicted for crimes.

However, as soon as the speech was over, we heard the criticisms start over the Governor’s “refusal” to talk about Donald Trump and the Editorial Board of the Baltimore Sun rushed out a criticism mirroring those talking points. In his past two State of the State Addresses, the Governor didn’t talk about Barack Obama or the spiking premiums under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Rather, he focused on State issues. This was fine for Democrats in the past, but now, looking ahead to 2018 and fearing Governor Hogan’s victory, they’ve come at him in force.

Certainly the Sun article, accusing the Governor of living in an “alternate reality.”  The Editorial Board at the Sun contends that the Governor should have covered “trade wars” (fact check: none exist), “gut[ting] the Federal workforce” (fact check: a hiring freeze is not gutting the Federal Government), “decimat[ing] environmental regulations” (fact check: this hasn’t happened), “privitiz[ing] schools” (fact check: not even sure what this one means), “dragoon[ing] police into enforcing immigration laws (fact check: Mr. Trump has instructed agencies to follow existing laws), and “clos[ing] our borders to the world’s most vulnerable” (fact check: everyone detained in the rollout of extreme vetting was released and over 325,000 immigrants weren’t stopped coming into the country). The Sun, however, contends that the Governor was supposed to mention these programs, despite the obvious fact that none of them have taken place.

The wildest contention by the Editorial Board at the Sun is the assertion that the Governor should weigh in on the future of Obamacare. Clearly in coordination with Annapolis Democrats, the Sun thinks they’ve found the Achilles Heel of the Hogan Administration. However, is Maryland’s “Fourth Branch” really asking for the Governor to weigh in on a repeal plan that has yet to be introduced to Congress? Certainly, one should see Governor Hogan’s decision not to engage in idle speculation as a credit to his composure as a sober, rational administrator rather than someone who is going to speculate about how Federal programs and laws will develop.

It’s to be expected that the Sun would criticize the Governor’s silence over Federal immigration policy. It’s baffling how the Sun could be so confused so as to think that the Chief Executive of the State of Maryland has control over Federal Customs and Border Patrol. The Editors tug at the heartstrings by citing stories of immigrants who were inconvenienced by the Federal pause in immigration from states that are hotbeds of insurgent and terrorist activities. We know what the point is: to lump Larry Hogan in with Donald Trump or to elicit a response that can be plastered on signs and in television commercials in the 2018 election.

So, here’s the point: we have the Maryland Democrats’ playbook. It’s obvious and it’s cunning. They are going to do everything in their power to go after Governor Hogan on issues relating to Federal policies despite the fact that Maryland’s Governor is doing everything in his power to keep the State afloat. There’s no doubt that even Governor Hogan’s refusal to share in the outrage of the Left over Mr. Trump will be used as an attack against him.

Given that we know what the Democrats in Maryland are manufacturing against the Governor, it’s important for the Governor’s supporters to be clear about the positive changes he is bringing to the State. Now, more than ever, it’s important to fight disinformation and political red herrings that attempt to undermine the Governor’s appeal with his base. The other side has shown its hand and we know their plays. It’s time to play aggressive defense and be ready for the incoming fights in 2018.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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