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In State of the State, Maryland Governor Stays Silent About Trump

In his third State of the State address, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan spoke of a need for bipartisanship in Annapolis and pressed the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to approve his most ambitious legislative agenda yet.

By Erin Cox and Michael Dresser

In his third State of the State address, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan spoke of a need for bipartisanship in Annapolis and pressed the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to approve his most ambitious legislative agenda yet.

In the roughly 30-minute speech, he bypassed any mention of the political division roiling the country since the election of President Donald J. Trump. Instead, the popular moderate -- who is frequently at odds with Maryland's legislative leaders -- focused on state policy.

He said in the last two years he had "chosen action over apathy," and delivered on the "unifying promise of bipartisan change."

"We have already accomplished a great deal," he said. "But together, we can -- and we must -- do more."

Democrats, seeking to retake the governor's mansion in 2018, had called on Hogan to use the annual address to weigh in on actions by Trump that have drawn thousands of Marylanders out to protest.

Hogan, who is trying to become the first Republican governor in the state to be re-elected in more than 60 years, was silent on Trump, leaving Democrats with little to attack.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller praised the speech as upbeat and positive -- especially compared with Hogan's more combative State of the State address two years ago -- but suggested it was driven as much by politics as policy.

"I give him an 'A' on his speech in the sense that it touches on every issue that has favorable ratings in the polling," the Calvert County Democrat said.

Sen. James C. Rosapepe, a Prince George's County Democrat, noted Hogan's silence on immigration, the federal workforce and repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

"He said a lot of nice things, a lot of things we can agree with, but he ignored the elephant in the room -- President Trump and the Trump Republicans," Rosapepe said. "He decided in his speech not to stand up to Mr. Trump. So that falls to the Democrats in Maryland, and we're certainly prepared to do that."

Hogan hewed closely to his state legislative agenda.

He pledged to eventually eliminate all taxes on retiree income, and asked lawmakers to vote on his proposal for an independent commission to redraw congressional boundaries.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke praised Hogan for laying out an ambitious plan that he said should win bipartisan support.

The governor's programs to combat heroin use and reform government procurement, for example, are "non-political, nonpartisan," Kipke said.

"He's doing everything possible to strike a bipartisan tone," the Anne Arundel County Republican said. "While some of the legislature continues trying to drag politics surrounding Donald Trump into Maryland politics, our governor is focused on the work of the people here in our state."

St. Mary's College political scientist Todd Eberly said Hogan had crafted an effective message for the times.

"He knew that what people wanted to hear was a pledge of bipartisanship to contrast with what's happening in Washington," Eberly said.

The only time Hogan mentioned the federal government was when he urged a multifaceted response to the opioid epidemic.

"We have made strides, but this crisis continues to grow out of control all across our country," the governor said. "This rapidly evolving threat is going to take federal, state, and community partners working together to find real solutions and to help save lives."

Hogan argued for what he described as equitable access to education, and urged lawmakers to support tax breaks for student loan interest, more money for scholarships to private schools, and a broad expansion of the state's charter school program.

Del. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat, said Hogan outlined "a lot of good initiatives" but failed to address critical issues confronting the city.

"We've got a $42 million deficit with the school system, and he really didn't talk about how we address that issue," McCray said.

The city stands to receive $42 million less in state aid to schools next year largely due to a formula that bases funding on enrollment numbers and wealth. Enrollment in the city has declined as property values have increased.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she thinks she'll be able to work with the governor on education and economic revitalization.

"We are still among one of the most impoverished areas," the Democrat said. "Job creation focus on education is still a very big issue for us."

Hogan embraced several policy ideas that have been championed by Democrats, including a requirement that some companies provide paid sick leave to employees.

Hogan's proposal does not go as far as one that cleared the House of Delegates last year, but he asked lawmakers to support his plan, which would apply to large companies. It would also offer tax incentives for small employers to offer the benefit.

"Let's strike a compromise," Hogan said. "In this way, we can provide even more employees the benefit without hurting the small business owners and without causing the loss of jobs."

Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., the Senate's minority whip, said Hogan was right to stick to Maryland concerns in the face of Democratic attempts to insert controversial national issues into the debate in Annapolis.

"They certainly are trying to tie the governor to Washington," the Upper Shore Republican said. "They've talked about that before session even started."

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat who is considering a challenge to Hogan in 2018, said the governor should stand up for immigrants after Trump suspended refugee admissions and banned the entry of all people from seven mostly Muslim countries.

Kamenetz said Hogan should also reassure Marylanders who worry they will lose health insurance when the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

"I wish he would use his popularity to influence his fellow Republicans in Congress and in the White House," the county executive said.

Republicans frequently stood and applauded Hogan during his remarks. Democrats kept to their seats and occasionally clapped -- though not when he admonished them to repeal a law requiring transportation projects to be prioritized according to a scoring system. The assembly approved the legislation over his veto last year.

GOP members cheered lustily as Hogan warned that the law could imperil the state's transportation program. He said it would force the cancellation of most major highway projects -- a claim Democrats and the Maryland attorney general's office have disputed.

"We risk eliminating much of that progress, and 66 of the 73 highest-priority projects in nearly every jurisdiction," Hogan said. "Let's repeal this misguided, poorly drafted, and fatally flawed Road Kill Bill."

Democrats have declared the governor's repeal bill dead on arrival. They say the legislation gives the administration the authority to fund projects regardless of a lower score as long as it provides a rational explanation for doing so.

Miller dismissed the governor's call.

"He doesn't want repeal," he said. "He wants to use it in two years," when he runs for re-election.

The governor closed his speech by mentioning his 2015 diagnosis with cancer. Hogan's cancer went into remission more than a year ago.

"I've learned that our time on this Earth is much too short, so we had better make the most of it," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

(c)2017 The Baltimore Sun

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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