Josh Kurtz: Why Larry Hogan Is Like Bob Ehrlich – and Why He Isn’t

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By: Josh Kurtz

With Larry Hogan set to be sworn in as governor tomorrow, comparisons to the state’s last Republican chief executive, Bob Ehrlich, are inevitable.

Hogan, after all, worked for Ehrlich, and his nascent administration is already being referred to as the second term Ehrlich never had. Certainly Hogan is recycling many officials from Ehrlich’s administration, including Craig Williams, Joe Getty, Van Mitchell, George Owings, Arlene Lee, Tim Hutchins, Al Redmer and Shareese DeLeaver, among others – not to mention Boyd Rutherford, who is about to become lieutenant governor. 

And philosophically, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of distance between the two; both are pro-business, anti-tax Republicans who campaigned on a platform of change and of challenging the Democratic monopoly in Annapolis.

Yet despite these similarities, there are some obvious differences between the two men. And there are things about Hogan that we just don’t know yet. Politically and managerially, he’s still very much a blank slate.

Hogan has been praised for putting together a bipartisan administration and for statements since the election that suggest he intends to work as closely with the Democratic legislature as possible.

But it’s easy to forget, 12 years later, that Ehrlich entered office in a spirit of bipartisanship as well. Ehrlich, in fact, boasted of his close personal relationships with key Democratic legislators and his familiarity with the State House culture. Years earlier, he had shared a beach house with Del. Mike Busch (D), who in 2003 was the incoming House speaker; he had also played basketball regularly with members of the Legislative Black Caucus when he served in Annapolis.

But things went south between Ehrlich and the legislature with stunning rapidity, and for a whole host of reasons. And once Ehrlich didn’t get his way, he complained about his critics in starkly personal terms, and then retreated to the golf course.

It is widely assumed that Hogan learned valuable lessons from his front-row seat in the Ehrlich administration and may not repeat many of Ehrlich’s mistakes. We just don’t know what he learned and how he plans to employ that knowledge when he becomes governor.

But this much is plain: How Hogan reacts to adversity, and whether he’s willing to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work necessary to attain compromise with the legislature and keep an open dialogue with his critics, will determine whether or not he’s a successful governor.

The Democrats, too, have learned some lessons from the Ehrlich era. They’ve got the same two presiding officers they had when Ehrlich was governor. But Busch and Senate President Mike Miller (D) have more liberal caucuses today than they did back then, and that will be a challenge to both men. Miller and Busch understand the implications of the November election and seem determined to move cautiously; the rank-and-file may not be so willing to go along.

On the other hand, Ehrlich had a liberal tormentor in Del. Peter Franchot (D). Today Franchot is the comptroller, inclined to be helpful to Hogan, just as Ehrlich had a friendly Democratic comptroller in William Donald Schaefer. On the national level, Ehrlich enjoyed some rapport with a Republican president; Hogan for at least the next two years will have a Democrat in the White House.

Who will Hogan listen to in the years ahead? Will his advisers be a chorus of yes men? Is he willing to be schooled in the hard knocks of politics in a Democratic state?

More to the point, who will Hogan talk to, day in and day out? Ehrlich, like most recent Maryland governors, came to office with a cadre of loyal advisers. That’s something Hogan doesn’t have. He’s been around politics forever, but he’s never been the principal. So he’ll be figuring things out – including who to turn to – as he goes along.

Without deep political moorings in the state, Hogan has been able to look elsewhere for some of his key appointments. Hogan’s nominee for Environment secretary, Ben Grumbles, and his pick for Transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, are among the best-credentialed people joining the administration.

And this much Hogan has going for him: When he says he doesn’t see his election as evidence of a partisan re-alignment in Maryland, you’re inclined to believe him.

Not that Hogan isn’t trying to help the state GOP. But Ehrlich, who had spent eight years in Newt Gingrich’s Congress, saw himself rather grandly as an avatar of a new Republican movement in Maryland – though he then did precious little to build the state organization. Hogan knows his party will succeed if he has a successful term in office but that his election, as a harbinger of anything significant, may be fleeting.

Ironically, Hogan probably has the bigger mandate. His message of business development and lower taxes resonated with voters just about everywhere. Sure, there was O’Malley fatigue, and Obama fatigue, but voters certainly knew what Hogan stood for – even though they barely knew him.

Ehrlich went into the 2002 election with a well-established political brand. He had been an elected official for 16 years, and the great Republican hope in the state for much of that time. His personal appeal had something to do with his upset victory over Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), but so did voters’ disgust with outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening (D) and with Townsend herself. What’s more, the 2002 election cycle, the first after 9-11, had a dynamic all its own that benefited Republicans in marginal states like Ehrlich.

One other essential difference: Ehrlich and Hogan have the same political base, insofar as their elections were secured with huge turnouts in the Baltimore suburbs and exurbs, along with typical Republican strong showings in rural areas. They lost the same three big jurisdictions badly. They are 18 months apart in age and have been friends and traveled in the same political circles for decades. But they seem to have very different perspectives.

Ehrlich went to Princeton and to Wake Forest Law School. But he never really left Arbutus. That small corner of Baltimore County shaped him, and he never seemed comfortable anyplace else. Although he came of age in the 1970’s, his essentially is a 1950’s worldview.

Hogan grew up in different parts of Prince George’s County, spent a lot of time with his father on Capitol Hill, and lived his teen years in Florida. His wife is Korean. And he just seems more comfortable in more places. You are unlikely to hear him call multiculturalism “crap,” the way Ehrlich did.

So this is no Ehrlich clone we’re looking at. But the challenges – and potential pitfalls – remain very much the same.

Larry Hogan starts his administration with plenty of goodwill. Whether he builds on it or squanders it is very much up to him.


Follow me on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

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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.