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November 17, 2014

Meet the New Boss

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

A recent column discussing the local general election results consumed more space than the esteemed publisher prefers, so musings about the gubernatorial outcome just didn't fit.


It's rare to hear The Old Line state mentioned on national cable news election night coverage. It's unheard of to hear it with words like "unprecedented," "shocking," or "upset." In Maryland, we're accustomed to predictability in our electoral process. Even the Ehrlich victory in 2002 wasn't really a shock; most knowledgeable pundits had seen it coming when the Democratic machine gave up on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.


This time was different. This really was an upset, an unpredictable and wholly odds-defying act that has shaken the political class in Annapolis to its core.


What makes this different than before? Democrats just stayed away from the polls, in measurable numbers that suggest a shift in the previous decade's history. In past Maryland elections, labor unions could direct their minions to go forth and vote, and like zombies in search of a brain buffet, Maryland Democrats would just go out and vote.


No questions and no hesitation, urban Marylanders would pull the lever for those with the "D" behind their name. Regardless of the popularity and turnout of the Republican candidates, Prince George’s County, Baltimore City and Montgomery County voters essentially ruled the board on election night.


In 2014, tradition got a facelift.


Maryland Democrats in dominant majority precincts found something else to do other than go to the polls. Early voting numbers heralded a change was in the wind, but nothing like the drop in Election Day turnout models.


By comparison, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown captured 30 and 40% of the votes cast in dominant Democratic precincts, while Larry Hogan garnered greater than 60% in mostly Republican voting strongholds. Mr. Hogan far outpaced Bob Ehrlich's 2002 and 2006 numbers. In a few places like Carroll County, Larry Hogan posted staggering overall vote percentages in the upper 70's and even low 80's.


So, Larry Hogan will be sworn in as the next governor of Maryland soon after the General Assembly is seated. As we discussed last time, a much more progressive body without the eight or nine moderate Democrats. Mr. Hogan watched what the House and Senate of Maryland did to his former boss. In fact, Larry himself was the subject of an ugly and unwarranted investigation into the politically motivated hiring practices of the Ehrlich Administration, policies that Larry himself was responsible for.


It's safe to assume that Mr. Hogan learned a thing or two about the legislative process and leadership during his time as the Ehrlich Administration Secretary of Appointments. I doubt that he'll be coming in demanding fealty from the two Mike's, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D, Calvert/Prince George’s) and Speaker Michael Busch (D, Anne Arundel).


Expect Governor-elect Hogan to start quietly, spending his initial time in office preparing a balanced budget containing cuts to treasured projects (the Purple Line on DC’s Metro system) and reductions in operational spending to meet his threshold of not raising taxes. It would be a surprise if he introduces a first budget containing major cuts designed to roll back past tax increases.


Mr. Hogan has built and re-built his commercial real estate empire. Tough times a few decades ago taught him valuable lessons and gave him the hard knocks that he'll need to restructure a more reasonable government for the future.


Both Senate President Miller and Speaker Busch have promised a spirit of cooperation with the governor-elect. That's something that they have to say, otherwise they appear petty and vindictive.


Real pettiness and vindictiveness comes later, once the General Assembly session starts. When the Hogan Administration's legislative initiatives hit the committees, then you'll see some real pettiness in action.


Until then, this will be more about pomp and ceremony. We get a breather during the interregnum, a kind of calm before the bare knuckle battle royale.


Enjoy it while it lasts; this promises to be a real donnybrook!


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