Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is in a unique position.
He was the subject of pervasive rumors that he would primary former President Donald Trump in 2020 — Hogan eventually declined to run, despite saying that even Trump Cabinet members asked him to. And the governor has positioned himself in the GOP as one of the foremost moderate foils to the Trump movement ahead of 2024.
But he remains a Republican governor in a deep blue state; in Maryland, Democrats outnumber Republicans in the General Assembly by a 130-57 margin.
Hogan often manages to find common ground with Democrats in the legislature, like on the “Relief Act” he just signed into law Monday, which was passed nearly unanimously and aimed at helping the state emerge from the pandemic. But he often finds himself in major battles with statehouse Democrats despite the fact that he’s more to the center on the national political scene.
Those battles are raging now as Maryland is in the middle of its legislative session, which brings with it the annual tradition of the General Assembly overriding Hogan’s vetoes from the previous year. The most high-profile veto override this session was of the Kirwan education bill, a $30 billion-plus package of spending increases and school reforms the legislature pushed through in the early days of the pandemic last year before the session was cut short by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
“I provided record funding for K-12 education for seven budgets in a row since I’ve been governor but this proposal by the legislature was to, over a 10-year period, add up to $38 billion in more spending, up to $4 billion a year on top of that. And the state just can’t afford it,” Hogan said in an interview with Fox News.
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“I vetoed the bill for very good reason. Most people in the state are opposed to any tax increases at this point, especially now in the middle of a pandemic,” Hogan continued. “And that’s what would be required to pay for this.”
William Kirwan, who was the top proponent of the education bill and after whom the commission that wrote it was named, lauded the veto override by Annapolis Democrats.
“Maryland is now on track to develop a school system that will be the envy of the national and as good as any in the world,” he said, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Though Hogan may have lost this round, he predicts he’ll eventually be on the winning end of the issue.
“In a political move they did override the veto, but it’s not going to stand. There’s not money. There’s no funding mechanism. And the legislature is going to have to ditch this legislation and fix it and come up with a new proposal,” Hogan told Fox News.
He added: “We all want better outcomes for our kids. And we have some persistently failing schools. Maryland has some of the highest-funded schools in America, and our school systems that are performing the worst are the ones with the most funding … Just throwing money at the problem is not a solution.”
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Another in-state political quarrel Hogan’s pushed into is the reopening of schools amid the pandemic.
Maryland is among the worst states in the country at getting its kids back in classrooms. According to Burbio, a digital platform that tracks school reopenings, Maryland is one of just five states nationwide with less than 20% of students back in classrooms, as of Feb. 11. Many Maryland counties are still doing all-remote learning.
But Hogan says that hasn’t been for lack of effort on his part.
“It’s critically important that we get our kids back in school,” Hogan told Fox News. “I pushed very hard — although in Maryland, the local-duly elected school boards get to make the final decision — we basically pushed them as hard as you possibly could to get reopened by March 1st.”
Hogan said 22 of 24 districts will be back to some level of in-person learning by March 1, “but it was a tremendous battle against the teachers union.”
The Teachers Association of Baltimore County late last month, according to the Baltimore Sun, slammed Hogan for providing “incomplete, slanted” safety guidance and called the March reopening date “arbitrary.”
“I think the science is very clear,” Hogan responded on Monday, citing the fact that many private schools in Maryland have been open since August with few problems. “And everyone from, you know the Biden administration’s top officials to Anthony Fauci to Dr. Scott Gottlieb — almost anyone you talk to and every study.”
He added: “There’s just not a good argument anymore with all the vaccines coming out, with all the testing we have, with all the money that’s been poured into school systems to keep them safe, that we can’t at least start to make the effort to get as many of our kids back safely into schools as we can.”
Hogan also took a shot at the Biden administration for the fact it has been reluctant to take a forceful stance on reopening schools: “Nearly everyone agrees, including President Biden says he wants to get kids in school — until they kind of waffled and backtracked a little bit over the past week. The CDC was saying that everybody should be able to get back in school.”
Hogan is also gearing up for another battle with Annapolis Democrats that’s likely to come to a head in the next year or so. Maryland is set to redraw its congressional district lines following the 2020 Census and Hogan is taking aim at what he calls “the most badly gerrymandered districts in America.”
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Following the 2010 Census, Maryland’s congressional districts were redrawn in a way that flipped the state’s 6th District from red to blue. There was an uproar — and eventually, a Supreme Court case — over the fact plush, liberal D.C. suburbs were lumped in with the rural far-western reaches of the Maryland panhandle. But now in 2021, Hogan sees a chance to fix Maryland’s meandering districts.
“The previous governor, Martin O’Malley, actually admitted in a federal deposition in a court case that he drew the districts intentionally to try to just elect Democrats, which is against the law,” Hogan said. “So our situation is we’re appointing a completely nonpartisan redistricting commission made up of citizens in the state that are both Democrat, Republican and independent. They are appointing other members of the commission. They’re going to hold hearings all over the state and draw fair maps.”
But a map from Hogan’s commission would still have to get approval from the state legislature — which is unlikely, as that map is expected to be far less favorable to Democrats than the current one.
“They’re probably going to try to fight it and push another gerrymandered unfair map,” Hogan said. “But we’re going to probably end up in court. And I believe that we will prevail and we’ll have a more competitive situation with fair districts that are compact and contiguous and that will make more sense.”
But despite the GOP governor’s battles with Democrats in his state, he is still on the moderate end of the spectrum of the national Republican Party, and one of a minority faction that is critical of Trump. He alluded Monday that the GOP needs to reject Trumpism if it wants to be competitive on the federal level in the future.
“While we did get some things done over the past four years, we lost the presidency, we lost the House of Representatives and we lost the Senate. I don’t know that that’s ever happened before,” Hogan said. “The Republicans lost governors’ seats. They lost legislative bodies. We’ve got to figure out a way to appeal to more people so that we can get back to winning national elections.”
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He added: “The Republican Party’s got to figure out how to broaden the tent, return to a more Reagan big tent party so we can continue to win and push … the basic principles of the Republican Party.”
Hogan on Monday also said he believes Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol.
“My opinion is very strongly the president did — was involved in helping incite the mob that went to the Capitol. It was wrong,” Hogan said. “And I think time will tell how he is held accountable in the court of public opinion. But I’m just glad that that vote is at least behind us so we can move on to some of the more important things.”
Hogan’s comments are similar to those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is currently on a media tour emphasizing that Trump’s acquittal of the impeachment charge against him doesn’t mean his post-election conduct was acceptable.
But as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted on “Fox News Sunday,” that view “is an outlier regarding how Republicans feel about all this.”