On the Election, Prescience, and the Future
Less than a week after the historic election of Larry Hogan as Maryland’s 62nd Governor, the legend of how the campaign succeeded has begun to evolve. After initial stories about how Lt. Gov. Brown lost, the media has begun to tell the story of how Hogan actually won the race. Despite all the machinations and “insightful analysis” the story is really no more complicated than the explanation of Steve Crim, the architect of the Hogan victory, provided:
In Maryland, Brown simply got beaten. This wasn’t turnout; we don’t need any complex divinations to determine what happened. Maryland voters preferred Republican Larry Hogan, and voted him into office.
The shock of the Hogan victory is shared by so many in the mainstream Maryland media and the conservative media around the country. But to those of us here at Red Maryland, it was no surprise. In January, I wrote the following in the Baltimore Sun:
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Even in a state as blue as Maryland, voters are wearied by scores of tax increases and the implementation of one of the most far left agendas in the nation. Moreover, Mr. Brown’s patent failure on the one signature responsibility he has had as lieutenant governor, the state’s execution of health care reform, has likely led some voters to conclude that he lacks the capability to govern effectively. His lackluster public appearances have also done little to avoid the inevitable comparisons to another lieutenant governor looking to advance: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
History should make state Democrats wary as well. The last two times there was an open race for the governor’s seat were 1994 and 2002. Republicans did extremely well in both elections, with Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. winning a shockingly easy victory in 2002. Many of the same conditions in those races exist in 2014, namely a perpetual fiscal mess in Annapolis and voter fatigue with the current two-term administration.
National politics, or what could be referred to as the “macro political environment,” are not favorable for Mr. Brown either. The abysmal implementation of Obamacare nationally has widely been viewed as a springboard to success for Republicans. While much can change, the national tailwinds seem better for Maryland Republicans in 2014 than even 2002.
Outside of the Hogan campaign itself, few saw these words as much more than the excessive optimism of a partisan commentator.
I don’t mention this to continue the Red Maryland victory lap and say “we told you so”. (Though we did and you can read about it here.) I mention it to make the point that what we saw was there for anyone to see if they were willing to peer through the conventional wisdom and liberal media narrative that Maryland was unwinnable and the MDGOP was a non-entity.
Most of those writing the history of the Hogan campaign and dissecting the “secrets of its success” are almost exclusively those who failed to see it coming and/or have not the slightest knowledge of Maryland politics. What insightful analysis can those who failed to see this event coming truly bring to explaining its causes? None. (Hence Mr. Crim’s pithy explanations.)
The reason this is important is because many of those same media sources who never saw the Hogan revolution coming, or actively worked against it, now are opining about what the Hogan campaign needs to do going forward. They claim to be giving sound advice to a winning candidate they neither understand and, in many cases, openly opposed.
Why would the Hogan camp, in their right mind, take this advice?
While some in the media want to quote state Republicans planning already for a second Hogan term, or celebrating a return to relevance, any real feeling in that regard would be hubris.
Here history must be our guide. The tyrannical Maryland Democratic machine has been defeated but is has been far from destroyed. Their playbook to handle a Republican Governor has already largely been written, and it worked.
While Mike Miller has not made the absurd predictions of the MDGOP”s demise he did in 2002, make no mistake. Mike Miller and Mike Busch and the state Democratic Party will be singular in their purpose to regain the power that they lost. Their obsession with maintaining a monopoly on power will not be set aside in the name of common interest or even good governance. Despite, perhaps, their future public pieties of cooperation and bi-partisanship, state Democrats will never willingly lose focus on reacquiring power and making the Hogan governorship another one-term “anomaly”.
So how will they do it? Simple. Despite the ebullient mood of state Republicans, Larry Hogan is already an underdog for reelection and needs to operate his administration from this perspective. His reelection is dependent upon a positive “macro political environment” and an established record of accomplishments. Mere personal popularity will not be enough (Ehrlich had a favorable rating over 50% in 2006 and lost).
The Hogan administration needs to implement its tax and spending program and show real results. A “promises made, promises kept” campaign is what will be needed to overcome the state’s built-in advantages for Democrats and the anticipated onslaught of left-wing and Democratic forces combining to reestablish the state’s liberal orthodoxy. To his very great credit, Larry Hogan ran on economic issues and kept expectations reasonable even while seeking what some pundits have called the greatest upset of the 2014 election cycle.
State democrats just cannot let this happen. Mike Miller and Mike Busch cannot let this happen. So they will seek, along with their allies in the media, to thwart and frustrate the Hogan economic agenda. Three key strategies in the Democrat’s playbook have been used successfully.
State Democratic leaders will seek to force Governor Hogan into raising taxes as soon and as often as possible. This strategy worked on Bob Ehrlich. Martin O’Malley made great hay of the increases in property taxes and the “flush tax” during the Ehrlich years, even, amazingly, during the 2010 election after O’Malley himself had signed the largest tax increase in Maryland history. The room for error on the tax issue is extremely small for the Hogan administration.
To enact his program to transform state government, making it live within its means while still efficiently and effectively delivering services, the Hogan administration will need to replace and install many new people. From the very first press conference, the issue of replacing personnel was raised. While over 7000 people serve Maryland government at the pleasure of the Governor, replacing even a tiny fraction of these people will raise hackles in the media and the legislature. Again, this strategy was successfully employed against the Ehrlich administration. While Ehrlich did nothing wrong, illegal or even unusual in a change of administration, state Democrats and their lapdogs in the media were able to craft and drive home the media narrative that good people were being fired in the name of Republican political cronyism. They are already starting this process against Hogan, raising the issue at the very first press conference held by the Governor-elect.
The Hogan administration needs to be prepared for this line of attack, but they should not let it hamper their personnel decisions or allow it to hem them in in doing what is necessary to transform the state’s executive branch. Personnel is policy and if the Hogan camp acts out of fear in limiting necessary changes in who is running state government, they will directly imperil their ability to obtain the results they seek and, in turn, the hope of reelection.
In 2006, the General Assembly tried to simply remove executive branch officers they opposed. The Court of Appeals thwarted this. (Disclosure: I was part of the legal team that stopped this.) Whether the General Assembly could act to modify either the terms of current appointees or the method of appointment of the scores of Maryland commissions and executive bodies, is not a fully settled question. The potential for a “more aggressive” approach by the General Assembly to prevent wholesale changes by the Hogan administration cannot be ignored.
While the Maryland Governor has tremendous control over the state’s spending, this can be a double edged sword for a Republican occupying the office. Real control of state spending will, inevitably, lead to cries of outrage by various corners claiming that Hogan administration is “short changing education” “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor” “threatening our state’s environment” and a dozen other liberal memes that, despite their falsity, will be echoed in the state’s mainstream media.
Governor Ehrlich, having turned the state budget around, made significant increases in state spending his last two years, eschewing any major tax cut. This was a terrible mistake. It gained little benefit and dispirited more than a few within the state’s Republican base. Given his insistence on tax relief, this strategy should not even be on the table for the Hogan administration. The faster they can fund tax relief, particularly where it can fund private sector job growth and reduce the most regressive taxes, the better. State democrats will seek to stop this all the way. They will claim it is “unwise”, that they prefer “investments in infrastructure”, and generally say that any tax relief is moving “too fast”. We can even expect Comptroller Franchot, who has positioned himself as a fiscal conservative, to question the full extent of any proposed tax cut. This must be confronted and defeated because, again, Governor Hogan can expect little credit for restraint in tax relief and great harm will come from holding back on cuts which will produce the positive economic results he ran on and will need to occur to get reelected.
Undoubtedly, this won’t be the advice that the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun will give the Hogan administration. They will repeatedly and unrelentingly encourage Governor Hogan to “go slow” be “bi-partisan” and generally as much as possible govern as Anthony Brown would have done.
Better, I think, for the Hogan camp to take the advice of those, including themselves, that understood how they got elected in the first place and truly have their best interests at heart.