Year after year, Governor. Larry Hogan’s annual presentation at the Maryland Free Enterprise Institute Fundraising Lunch brought Hogan(R) some of his greatest honors. This is an audience that loves his pro-employment messages and shares his fears of the all-democratic rule of Annapolis in large part.
So, since he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, Hogan’s farewell address to the group on Thursday was a special love feast, as the governor has only 2 1/2 months left in office.
Talk to the group in a Q&A led by Maryland Free Hogan President Duane Carey returned to familiar themes and boasted: He turned the nation’s economy around after “43 tax increases” under former Democrat Martin O’Malley; He insisted on taxes, created jobs and improved the state’s business climate; despite a “70 percent progressive majority” in the General Assembly, he was able to do it all — all while earning high voter approval ratings.
“That’s exactly what we say we’re going to do,” Hogan said.
Hogan got the warmest introduction from his Commerce Secretary, Michael Gill.
“November is the month of gratitude,” he said. “I know Marylanders have been very grateful over the past eight years.”
Even with all the hustle and bustle of Hogan, Maryland doesn’t rank very well in some business indices. Just this week, the Tax Foundation’s annual State Sales Tax Climate Index ranked Maryland 46th in the U.S. — down two places from a year ago. In a report released this spring by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, Maryland ranked 42nd for economic prospects, down nine spots from the year Hogan took office in 2015.
The numbers resonate with Christopher Summers, president and CEO of the Maryland Institute for Public Policy, a think tank that promotes free-market policy solutions.
“Government. Hogan has been an excellent governor in prioritizing small businesses and working to improve the business climate in the state, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “As far as the state’s tax structure is concerned, nothing has changed.”
Summers acknowledged that Hogan’s efforts to make major reforms in economic and tax policy have been hampered by overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
Hogan told the Maryland Liberals that he was most proud of his eight years in office to turn the economy around, resist Democrats’ efforts to raise taxes and shore up the state’s finances. He used his oft-repeated line that, as governor, he felt like he often “played the gatekeeper” to the Democratic legislature and allowed “sometimes they can score.”
But Hogan’s presidency is most valued by his overwhelming public approval ratings among Republicans, Democrats and independents. However, the governor’s fans and foes alike wondered if he could achieve more if he was willing to spend some political capital for the bitter legislative battle in Annapolis.
“He built all this political capital — but did he use any of it?” Summers asked. “It’s good to be popular, but does it really help?”
Hogan, on the other hand, is often seen as having the top political radar and the ability to place himself where the vast majority of voters are.
National free-market organization ALEC’s bad review of the state was revealed in its annual report, “Rich Nations, Poor Nations.” The study scored states based on 15 different economic factors.
“Maryland is the bottom state in terms of economic competitiveness by our metrics,” ALEC chief economist Jonathan Williams said in an interview.
Part of the reason for Maryland’s decline in the rankings during Hogan’s tenure, Williams observed, was a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 — a measure that Hogan vetoed and as a result his veto Overturned by the legislature.
“It’s a very complicated story,” Williams said, noting that ALEC doesn’t measure the performance of individual governors, “but the overall economy is large.”
Still, there is ample evidence that business leaders across the state are thankful for Hogan’s tenure.
Sandy Pruitt, executive director of the People’s Coalition for Change in Prince George’s County, said the Hogan administration helped small businesses, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic started two years ago.
Her organization includes more than 300 nonprofits and small and minority businesses located not only in Prince George, but also in neighboring Charles County, Baltimore and the District of Columbia. It was also involved in a project on the east coast two years ago. Alliance members receive advisory services and assistance to secure government grants and secure procurement opportunities.
“I like that the Hogan administration has reached out to a county that’s a Democratic majority and a black-majority county. [to] Make sure we understand the state’s resources and programs,” Pruitt said. “For me, if [the governor is] Democrat or Republican. We shut our own people out because of who was in office. If we meet the criteria and requirements for this funding then we need to be open to apply for this funding. “
Maryland Liberal Party chairman John Carey, who owns a marketing and PR firm in Howard County, called Hogan “a friend of business and a friend of organization.” He credited Hogan for blocking Annapolis’ anti-business bill and improving customer service at state agencies, creating an atmosphere that made it easier for businesses to thrive.
“Employers are more likely to expand in Maryland when the executive branch recognizes their critical role in developing a healthy economy,” Carey said.
“I won’t watch the store for you”
Hogan’s speeches to the Maryland Free (which until recently were known as Maryland Business for Responsive Government) have been largely similar over the years. But Thursday’s different form, with Carey as an interlocutor, was refreshing. Hogan was able to speak to all his talking points, but Carey sparked some interesting observations. in:
- Hogan predicted a “huge red wave” across the country next week because “we now have a monopoly in Washington, just as we have a monopoly in Annapolis,” although he did not predict a Republican turn in the U.S. Senate.
- Hogan sees Maryland’s congressional districts becoming more competitive, insisting that with credible candidates, Republicans can compete in five of the state’s eight districts. He greeted Nicole Ambrose, the Republican nominee against the 10-term Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (R), as a “woman parliamentarian”.
- Hogan declined to predict a match between Dell to succeed him. Dan Cox (R-Frederick) and author and former nonprofit executive Wes Moore (D). But Hogan, who has been a harsh critic of Cox, seemed to acknowledge the prevailing sentiment that Moore would win, observing, “We don’t need to go to the arrogant monopoly when it pushes the country too far to the left.”
Carey asked Hogan if he had any regrets looking back on his eight years in office. Hogan said he regretted that the state didn’t pass tougher crime laws during his tenure and lamented that some of his proposals for tougher education reform never got the Democrats’ consideration in the legislature. In fact, the Legislature did pass major education reform, the Maryland Blueprint for the Future, largely over Hogan’s disapproval.
When asked about his future, Hogan was more cautious than ever. Carey joked about the political rumors surrounding the governor, to which Hogan admitted, “I’ve heard that too. I’m not sure any of them are true.”
But Hogan was never directly asked if he planned to run for president in 2024, and he never said he was considering the White House.
“I was hoping maybe I could take a day or two off after working seven days a week,” he said, adding that he would then assess “how I can best serve”, whether in the private sector or in public areas.
Hogan, however, is clearly considering the presidential nomination process and his ability to attract support. He was quick to point out that 14 states have open presidential primaries — meaning more centrist Republicans like him may have more crossover appeal than fire-breathing extremists.
Hogan seemed genuinely moved by the crowd’s warm reception, and was clearly sorry he wasn’t there.
“Your voice is very important,” he told the gathered business leaders. “I come every year because I really respect what you do.
“After January,” lamented Hogan, “I won’t be showing you the shop.”
As for Maryland’s national business status, at least according to ALEC’s assessment, business leaders may not have to worry about it falling further. ALEC economist Williams points out that states like New York, Vermont, California and Illinois consistently perform worse than Maryland in any national survey of business conditions.
“This is the silver lining for Maryland — there are many more states that are more anti-business,” he said. “It will take a daunting task to turn this around.”
While business leaders have some unease with a unified Democratic government in the state legislature, they are “hopeful for Governor Moore,” Carey said.
“The raw materials are undeniable — great, natural leadership, high IQ, military service, business background and charismatic personality,” Carey said. “But most importantly, we think the legislature will work with him, and as an academic, we think he’ll be open to a lot of data that shows what it takes to have a thriving economy that revitalizes everyone. “
William J. Ford contributed to this report.