Josh Kurtz: What 3 Bills Tell Us About Larry Hogan

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Well, of course Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was going to veto the bill creating an oversight board for the state transit system. And the proposal to expedite funding for a new Potomac River crossing in Southern Maryland. And the measure to establish a commission that advises the state Board of Education.

These bills are direct challenges to Hogan’s authority, and his vetoes set up yet another series of showdowns with the Democratic legislature. The media will undoubtedly focus on this tension in the months leading up to the 2017 session, when lawmakers consider whether to try to override his vetoes.

But in many ways, Hogan’s disposition on three other pieces of legislation in recent weeks was more significant – because it said a lot about Hogan’s strategic thinking.

The first was his decision to sign a bill expanding access to contraception and other reproductive health services in Maryland. The second was his decision to veto a bill expanding the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for clean energy. The third was his decision to let a college affordability measure become law without his signature.

Hogan didn’t say a lot about the contraception bill, sponsored by Del. Ariana Kelly (D) and Sen. Delores Kelley (D), when he signed it. Asked by Fox 5 reporter Ronica Clearey at a subsequent news conference why a Republican would support such legislation, Hogan replied simply, “It was a bill worth signing.”

What he could have said just as easily was, “It was a fight worth avoiding.”

Since he started running for governor, Hogan has moved carefully and skillfully to avoid getting sucked into debates over social issues – despite Democrats’ occasional goading. He tried to forestall any in-depth questions about abortion rights during the campaign by saying it was “settled law.”

When congressional Republicans tried to cut funding for Planned Parenthood last year, Hogan resisted Democrats’ calls to say publicly whether he would maintain state funding for the pro-choice and public health group. He also has refused to be drawn into discussions about new regressive laws in other states that target LGBT rights.

So even though Hogan’s allies at the website Red Maryland snarkily suggested the legislation promotes promiscuity, signing it was probably a no-brainer for the governor – especially after an analysis from the legislature suggested the fiscal impact would be negligible.

Hogan’s decision to veto the bill by Sen. Catherine Pugh (D) and Del. Bill Frick (D) to expand and accelerate the state’s clean energy goals should not have come as a surprise. After all, the Maryland Energy Administration – an agency that has become dysfunctional under Hogan (click here for more details) and just got a new director, after Hogan shunted the previous one aside – was an early opponent of the legislation.

Hogan has expressed his support for the environment in the broadest of terms – every Maryland politician, after all, has to be “rah rah rah” about protecting the Chesapeake Bay. But he has also embraced numerous regulatory rollbacks.

Hogan retains some good will in the green community through the work of Ben Grumbles, his widely admired Environment secretary. But Hogan is also painfully aware that increasing energy costs contributed to Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s bid for a second term in 2006.

So he has been adamant about opposing any legislation that could be perceived as doing just that. In fact, he called the clean energy bill a tax hike.

Even with Hogan’s veto, the beefed-up Renewable Portfolio Standard will become law, assuming the legislature overrides his veto. So state energy sources would become cleaner – and Hogan could still be seen as attempting to hold the line on consumers’ utility bills.

Hogan’s decision to let the College Affordability Act of 2016 become law without his signature was also instructive.

Hogan has publicly expressed his distaste for spending mandates, and even attempted to roll back a few in the most recent legislative session. Still, the college affordability measure, sponsored by Del. Adrienne Jones (D) and Sen. Ed Kasemeyer (D), was broadly popular – and Hogan could reap some of the political benefits not too far down the line.

So why not sign it? Perhaps because the bill has become associated with state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D), a co-sponsor and the legislature’s leading Hogan critic. Madaleno attempted a Hogan-like guerilla tactic in the days before the deadline for the governor to act, launching a social media campaign to prevent Hogan from vetoing the legislation.

Hogan is unlikely to admit that he was swayed by any such effort. But by letting the bill through without signing it, Hogan robbed Madaleno, Jones and other Democratic critics an opportunity to celebrate their legislative victory in a public bill-signing ceremony.

The sponsors aren’t complaining. But here is another example of Petty Larry on display.   


Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily on Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews  

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.