According to a poll released by Goucher College, Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan retains broad, bipartisan, approval despite the State’s more-than-2-to-1 voter disadvantage against Republicans. The Governor is sitting very comfortably at 63%.
Hogan, who has governed as a moderate, has focused on fiscal issues, and has largely divorced his Administration from the tumult of national affairs. Maryland Democrats, obsessed with beating Governor Hogan in 2018 (and thereby preventing Hogan from unwinding decades of gerrymandered Congressional districts), have attempted to tie Hogan to the national dialogue about President Donald Trump.
Despite Mr. Trump’s strong economic message and push for manufacturing jobs, Maryland remains an outlier where liberals maintain overwhelming control of popular opinion. Democrats have hoped to tie Governor Hogan to Mr. Trump. The President’s popularity in Maryland breaks down along Party lines and is well-below 50%. Throughout the Presidential campaign, Maryland Democrats tried (and failed) to link Governor Hogan to the Republican nominee. Their tactic made sense: Trump is unpopular in Maryland and (at the time) looked to be on a losing trajectory, so why not try to get Hogan to side with Trump? Unfortunately for them, the Governor decided against the idea and did not support Mr. Trump in the primary or in the general election (opting in the latter case to vote for his father rather than either of the major Party candidates).
The Governor has faced some backlash from Republicans over his decision not to embrace Mr. Trump. Especially in working-class areas where Mr. Trump’s economic populism has garnered intense loyalty, Mr. Hogan’s decision to shy away from Trump has angered some Republicans and moderate Democrats. However, the fact remains, and will continue into 2018: Larry Hogan, whatever his opinions about Donald Trump, remains a steady, level-headed leader who is working hard to bring the State’s budget and finances back on course.
Undeterred from Governor Hogan’s ambivalence towards Mr. Trump in the campaign, Maryland Democrats are now trying, at every turn, to force Hogan to comment on the dealings of the President. Of course, the Governor of Maryland has basically nothing to do with the decisions made at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but Democrats think they have a great wedge issue: if Hogan supports Trump on an issue, they can use it to undermine Hogan’s support among moderate Democrats; if Hogan doesn’t support Trump, Democrats will push that message out to Republicans and hopefully cause Republicans to stay home. It doesn’t really matter what the issue is for Democrats, they just need to get something on Governor Hogan (who they really haven’t been able to lay a glove on yet) in order to attack him next year.
The Governor’s policy proposals have also gotten a boost from the outcome of the Goucher Poll. The poll found that 70% of Marylanders support the Governor’s call for an independent commission to redraw Maryland’s Congressional districts. It’s almost certain that, if Governor Hogan is not re-elected, that Democrats will continue the tradition of partisan gerrymandering. While this is not a problem unique to Maryland (nationally, State legislatures drawing partisan boundaries actually has, on net, benefitted Republicans), Maryland’s districts are some of the worst offenders (including the laughably drawn 3rd Congressional District that hops and skips along a broken corridor in central Maryland).
Not all the numbers in the poll are good for conservative fiscal initiatives. Majorities support the dubious economics of raising the State’s minimum wage to $15 (and thereby making Maryland’s labor more expensive without raising its value) and mandating paid sick time from employers. A majority also supports legalized marijuana, which is becoming a less-controversial issue as years move along. The poll also found that Marylanders think that the State is spending too-little on Public Schools despite the Governor’s fully-funding the formulas created by the General Assembly.
The takeaway from these polling results is either that the Governor will need to shape and direct the way in which compromises on the issues move forward or help to educate Marylanders on what’s really going on in Annapolis and the way money is spent. Certainly, any move to artificially increase the cost of labor in the State, though it’s being boosted by unions that see it as a means to greater power over collective bargaining, would hurt Maryland’s workers. Likewise, explaining how school funding works would allay talking points and critiques of the Governor from the left.
The most notable of the demonstrably false attacks against the Governor related to education is coming out of Baltimore City. City Schools have continuously overspent and mismanaged funding for decades (it’s really not the fault of the people in charge now, but rather years of poor stewardship). Now, faced with an over $130 million shortfall, the City is raging that the Governor has abandoned Baltimore’s children.
It’s visceral. It’s angry. It’s also completely wrong. Funding works through a legislative formula that looks at what a local area can afford to spend on schools based, largely, on expected property tax income. Under the formula, Baltimore City should be able to afford more than it actually can. The reason for this is because Baltimore gave tax breaks for development and isn’t realizing the income that the assessed value in the formula would indicate. Therefore, even when the formula is fully-funded, City Schools don’t have enough cash.
The fix is something that would come from the General Assembly, not the Governor. In fact, the Governor is spending more on schools than ever and has given every cent that the formula from the General Assembly required. It’s oddly convenient, then, that Democrats in the General Assembly would prefer to use Baltimore City Schools funding as a cudgel to attack the Governor rather than fix the problem that they, in concert with poor planning by City officials, created.
The Goucher Poll of Governor Hogan’s approval notes that the Governor has dropped a few percentage points from his all-time high over 70% approval down to 63%. This decline, while mildly troubling, is completely understandable and within a normal deviation for polling. 57% of respondents indicate a likelihood of voting for Governor Hogan in 2018. Obviously, if this number holds, Larry Hogan would be the first two-term Republican governor in more-than half a century.
It’s important that supporters of the Governor not get complacent or think that a few good polls equate to an incoming victory for Hogan in 2018. There is a target on the Governor’s mansion and a lot of very interested, wealthy, and connected Democrats would like nothing more than to take back Maryland. It’s also important for Republicans who have been leery over Hogan’s tepid response to the new President to understand where the Governor is coming from and to realize that the best way to push Maryland in the right direction is to have someone like Larry Hogan at the helm of the State. Remember: good men can disagree over important topics. However, we have seen, through the proof of his tenure thus far in office, that Governor Hogan is committed to putting Maryland on the right track for the future.