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Taking another close look at Hogan, the governor’s race and much more

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A few weeks ago, my column “Will the real Larry Hogan please stand up?” published June 7, took a look at some key issues that will surely be debated during the Maryland gubernatorial campaign. To say it generated some controversy would be putting it mildly. Like most things in life, there is always more than one side to any issue. To say that the governor’s office, specifically his Director of Communications, Ms. Amelia Chasse, took exception to my portrayal of the governor’s record would be quite the understatement.

As an advocate of the “fairness doctrine,” the purpose of this column is to provide the governor’s office with an opportunity to share their view and provide the reader with a more balanced approach. For space considerations I will have to condense much of their input, but I will make every effort to capture the essence of their responses. I will also take the opportunity to offer my own response to their counterpoints. I’ll leave it to the reader to judge the merits of either side of the debate.

In that original column I made several claims regarding the governor’s record. I stated that under his administration “Maryland’s school rankings, once the best in the country, have dropped every year since he took office in 2014.” Moreover, I stated that “he attempted to cut funds for public schools but was stopped by the Democratic legislature and that the State Commission on Education stated that Larry Hogan’s budgets have underfunded our schools by almost $3 billion.” I described Governor Hogan as “a fan of Betsy DeVos, the unfit Trump appointee as Secretary of Education dedicated to increasing the use of taxpayer funds for private school vouchers.”

In the area of healthcare, I stated “Maryland’s healthcare is also at risk under Larry Hogan who was silent as Trump tried to kill the Affordable Care Act, putting the health of 400,000 citizens of Maryland in jeopardy. Further, Governor Hogan has not offered any plan, after a one-year fix expires, to stabilize the health insurance market and costs in Maryland.” I went on: “Just as egregious, Governor Hogan underfunded the Heroin & Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) by some $16 million necessitating the Democratic State Legislature to return these funds.”

Regarding the environment, I claimed “Governor Hogan has put business interests ahead of environmental concerns as evidenced by enforcement of environmental crimes being the lowest in two decades. Moreover, Governor Hogan vetoed a bill to speed up the move toward use of solar and wind energy necessitating the Democratic State Legislature to override the veto. He has consistently resisted air quality improvements and opposed the Maryland anti-fracking ban before finally signing it.”

Regarding gun safety legislation, I stated “Governor Hogan backs weaker gun safety legislation as evidenced by his A-rating from, endorsement by and campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. It took the Great Mills High School tragedy to get him to finally sign into legislation a ban on bump stocks, which turn semi-automatic weapons into more deadly automatic weapons. He is also on record as opposing Maryland’s Firearms Safety Act of 2013 while supporting the carrying of concealed weapons.”

As for mass transit, I claimed that Governor Hogan proved not to be a fan of mass transit by sacrificing “some $900 million in federal funds for the Red Line in Baltimore. He clearly favors roads over mass transit as he wants to let private companies widen I-270 and I-495 and build so-called ‘managed lanes’ with extremely high tolls. ‘Private,’ by the way, is often a euphemism for ‘profit.’”

Lastly, regarding job growth, I claimed that under Governor Hogan “job growth in Maryland sorely lags behind Virginia and the unemployment rate in Maryland is higher than the national average. He also vetoed the legislature’s paid sick leave bill and, once again, it took a Democratic State Legislature override of the governor’s veto to enact the legislation. Add to this the fact that Governor Hogan was silent when Trump tried to cut the budget of the National Institutes of Health by some 20 percent even though NIH is a major employer in Montgomery County.”

So now you have what I said in that rather controversial column. Now for the objections to those statements by Governor Hogan’s Communications Director and my responses to her objections:

To my claims regarding school rankings and education funding: “There was a major change in how education rankings are calculated since 2014. Maryland held first place in the Education Week rankings from 2009-2013. In 2014, Ed Week didn’t rank states. In 2015, when Ed Week changed its ranking system, Maryland placed third.

“The previous administration inflated national test scores by excluding special-education students; the state’s schools excluded a higher percentage of special-education students than any other state, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education...

“The governor has, with some minor exceptions, funded Maryland education at the level the state’s spending formulas require. Doing so has enabled him to claim record funding for K-12 education every year, but that’s beside the point, too. The idea that we used to be first in education and have slipped to sixth (as charted in Education Week’s annual rankings) is a canard.

“Since taking office, Governor Hogan has committed record K-12 education funding in each of his four budgets, totaling $25 billion...Governor Hogan’s record investment of $6.5 billion in K-12 education in his fiscal year 2019 budget represents an increase of more than 7% from the $6,054,313,390 that the previous administration invested in K-12 education in fiscal year 2015...

“In his proposed fiscal year 2019 budget, Governor Hogan will be providing an average of $7,542 in per pupil aid for students across the state, this represents an increase of over 4.7% from the $7,198 in average per pupil aid provided for students across the state by the previous administration in fiscal year 2015. Every school in the state has received increased funding under the Hogan administration by ensuring that no system will lose money next year by proposing $15.2 million more than required to help protect Baltimore and other jurisdictions from what otherwise would be funding decreases because enrollments have declined.

Quite a lot to go through, but here’s my response: From 2009-2013 we were ranked first and now, you say, we dropped to third since 2014. Thank you for confirming my original statement.

More significantly, however, Governor Hogan’s very first budget attempted to cut more than $100 million in public school funding. The governor’s last budget proposed nearly $100 million in education-funding cuts to vital programs to improve teacher retention and provide afterschool programs.

Moreover, after Democrats introduced a constitutional amendment to ensure that casino gaming revenue goes to our schools, the governor used legislative tactics in an attempt to water down the bill so he could continue diverting casino gaming revenue from our public schools which, it is estimated, he has done to the tune of some $1.4 billion since he took office.

To my claim regarding Governor Hogan being a fan of Betsy DeVos and public funds for private schools: “Please find a single example of Governor Hogan being a ‘fan’ of Betsy Devos. There aren’t any.”

My response: Larry Hogan rolled out the red carpet for Betsy DeVos weeks after she was confirmed as Trump’s Education Secretary, making her the first Trump administration official he hosted in Maryland. Being a fan of DeVos is not as troubling as being a fan of DeVos’ efforts to use public funds for private schools.

To my claim regarding Maryland’s healthcare being at risk: “Baltimore Sun Headline: ‘Hogan Opposes Latest Version Of Obamacare Repeal Bill.’ New York Times: ‘Two other Republican governors, Mr. Sununu and Larry Hogan of Maryland, expressed similar concerns in separate statements. “The Graham-Cassidy bill is not a solution that works for Maryland,” Mr. Hogan said. “It will cost our state over $2 billion annually while directly jeopardizing the health care of our citizens.”‘ Baltimore Sun Headline: ‘Hogan Wants Congress To Renew The Obamacare Subsidies Trump Cut.’ Baltimore Sun Headline: ‘Hogan Opposes “Skinny Repeal” Of Obamacare.’”

My response: This is an example of Governor Hogan taking credit for other people’s work. Governor Hogan opposed the bill once it was clear it would fail after Marylanders and millions of Americans flooded Congress with calls in opposition to the bill. In March of 2017, as Republicans were pushing TrumpCare, several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation urged Hogan to join the fight against the bill. Instead of joining the fight, Hogan accused them of “grandstanding.” Months later, in May, Hogan appointed an Obamacare critic to lead Maryland’s healthcare commission. By the time Hogan opposed the bill, it was clear it was dead and the work was already done.

To my claim regarding Governor Hogan not stabilizing the health insurance market: “In April 2018, Governor Hogan signed landmark bipartisan healthcare legislation to stop insurance rate increases and stabilize insurance markets. ‘But the most significant thing that’s likely to emerge from the 90 days of lawmaking came with little fanfare or controversy, one of the most aggressive efforts in the country to protect the state’s Affordable Care Act insurance exchange from collapsing under a series of blows from the Republican Congress and President Donald Trump.’ (Editorial Board, ‘Maryland’s Year Of Health Care,’ Baltimore Sun, 4/6/18)”

My response: The editorial cited also stated: “But it doesn’t entirely solve the problem. First of all, the tax deal only lasts one year (to match the federal hiatus, which is also only good for 2019). Other legislation requires the state to apply for federal help to support the reinsurance pool on a long-term basis, and at one point the Trump administration actually encouraged states to do that. But since then, the signals have been decidedly mixed, and Maryland may wind up being on its own. And second, the pressure on the risk pool in Maryland and elsewhere will only intensify when the requirement that individuals buy health insurance expires in 2019 as a result of the Trump/GOP tax law. Fewer young, healthy customers will buy insurance, making the risk pool older, sicker.”

To my claim regarding Governor Hogan and guns and bump stocks: “Top Democrats in the General Assembly want to expand Maryland’s assault weapons ban to also forbid the sale of bump stocks, the device used in the Las Vegas mass shooting to turn a semiautomatic rifle into a rapidly firing weapon. In November of 2017 Governor Hogan said expanding the assault weapons ban to bar the sale of bump stocks is ‘worth discussing.’ (Erin Cox, ‘Leading Democrats Push To Expand Maryland’s Assault-Weapons Ban,’ The Baltimore Sun, 11/27/17).

“To take immediate action to further restrict access to guns for individuals with mental illnesses or a violent criminal background, in February 2018 the governor announced support for several targeted initiatives, including: support for ‘red flag’ legislation, which allows family members or law enforcement to petition the court for an order that would prohibit an individual from possessing firearms or ammunition if they were deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others; federal action to institute a universal background check system, which the governor has supported since his campaign; support for legislation to strengthen and clarify current law to prohibit an individual convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms...; support for legislation banning ‘bump stocks.’” (Governor Larry Hogan, press release, 2/28/18). Governor Hogan: ‘Immediately After The Tragedy In Las Vegas, I Made It Clear That It Was Time To Ban Bump Stocks – Let’s Get It Done.’”

My response: Governor Larry Hogan has an A-minus NRA rating. You do not get that rating without earning it. Further, after Democrats announced their proposal to ban bump stocks after Las Vegas, Hogan dismissed the proposal, saying, and I quote, “I don’t think anyone in the history of our state has ever been killed by a bump stock.” Again, and I will repeat, it was only in the aftermath of the Great Mills High School tragedy and the political climate it created that the governor signed the bump stock legislation.

To my claim regarding the governor putting business interests before the environment: “Since taking office, Governor Hogan has made a record investment of over $4 billion in state funds toward Chesapeake Bay restoration initiatives. In April 2018, the Hogan administration opposed the EPA weakening emissions standards. The Hogan administration is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to leave the current greenhouse gas emissions standards for light-duty vehicles in place and to allow states like Maryland to continue to adopt vehicle emissions standards that are more protective than federal standards...

“Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday committed to joining a bipartisan coalition of states to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement ... In a letter Wednesday, the Republican governor wrote that he opposed the president’s decision then, and he opposes it now. Maryland’s clean air standards were already significantly stronger than the Paris climate accord and still are, Hogan wrote in a letter to the coalition’s executive director, Julie Cerqueira. (Brian Witte, ‘Maryland’s GOP Governor Commits To US Climate Alliance,’ Associated Press, 1/10/18).

“In July 2017, Governor Hogan directed the Attorney General to sue the EPA for failing to address enforcement of air quality standards that have contributed to air pollution problems. The Hogan administration notified the federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday that it plans to file a lawsuit alleging the agency has failed to act against states whose smokestack emissions pollute Maryland’s air. In a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles charged that the Trump administration has failed to enforce mandatory provisions of the Clean Air Act despite evidence that five upwind states are illegally emitting nitrogen oxide that contributes to Maryland’s pollution problems…

“Grumbles’ letter says that Maryland presented the EPA last November with a petition asking it to rule that 36 power-generating units at 19 plants in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania are violating the ‘good neighbor provision’ of the Clean Air Act. Maryland contends the EPA has failed to either uphold or deny Maryland’s claim and has not scheduled a hearing on the matter.”

My response: And yet under Governor Hogan, environmental enforcement is at a 20-year low. Further, after Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, contrary to his statement about joining the alliance, Hogan dismissed the newly-formed U.S. Climate Alliance, saying “we’re not sure what the intention of the group is.”

Doesn’t sound very supportive.

A dozen, mostly Democratic, states formed the alliance to express their commitment to the Paris climate pact despite Trump’s decision to abandon it. The United States is now the only nation not party to the agreement, which sets country-by-country targets to help slow or reverse global climate change, and this alliance is designed to unite states in an attempt to fill the void left by Trump’s abandonment of the accord. Member states include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington state. Puerto Rico has also joined.

To my claim regarding Governor Hogan’s lack of support for mass transit: “Governor Hogan was the first regional leader to offer a proposal to provide a major increase in metro funding. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wrote in a letter Monday that he would budget $500 million in additional state funds over the next four years to help fund Metro’s improvement program. Hogan sent the letter to Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Hogan offered to put forth Maryland money if D.C., Virginia and the federal government all fund that same amount over the next four years.

“Washington Post Editorial Board: Governor Hogan Was The ‘Decisive Factor’ In ‘Turning The Regional Tide’ In Favor Of Funding Metro. ‘But three years into his term in office, Mr. Hogan (R) has made a break with his past and can credibly claim to have been the decisive factor in turning the regional tide in favor of a workable bailout for Metro, the national capital area’s ailing transit system. The bailout, which would provide Metro with an earmarked funding source for the first time in the rail service’s 40-year history, remains in doubt pending the outcome of negotiations this week among Republican lawmakers who control Virginia’s state legislature. Still, it is partly thanks to Mr. Hogan’s leadership that Richmond and Annapolis have edged so close to putting Metro on a par with the nation’s other major transit systems, virtually all of which rely on a reliable stream of annual state or local dollars that they can use as collateral to finance major improvement projects.’

“The Hogan administration is building the $5.6 billion Purple Line in Prince George’s And Montgomery Counties - the largest P3 transit project in the county. Maryland launched construction on the Purple Line on Monday, the culmination of more than two decades of political and financial wrangling to build a transit line connecting the Washington suburbs. The $2 billion, 16-mile light rail project is the largest public-private infrastructure project in the nation, state and federal transportation officials said. When complete, the 21-stop rail line will carry an estimated 41,000 passengers a day and generate more than 50,000 new jobs.

“U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao ...said other states should try to replicate Maryland’s model of using private companies to help build and maintain large public projects.”

My response: Ah, if only he didn’t cancel the Red Line, which experts have said will set back Baltimore’s economic development for decades.

Well, here you have it, both sides of these critical issues and, I hope, you are now better positioned to come to whatever conclusions you deem appropriate. I will add that as we approach the 2020 census and the drawing of district lines who we have sitting in the governor’s chair in the State House takes on much greater importance.          

@PKSpaul

 

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