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Larry Hogan to fight Maryland gerrymandering despite Democrat legislature

January 15, 2019

Having spent his first four years dialing back the tax and spending increases of his Democratic predecessor, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan will kick off his second term this week looking to make big changes to the way politics are done in the state.

Mr. Hogan the first Republican governor to be re-elected in Maryland in six decades will retake the oath of office at noon Wednesday with sky-high approval ratings and the strong goodwill of voters but facing an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature that may be emboldened by the governor’s lame-duck status.

The governor has said he wants to make headway on changing the way the state draws legislative districts by reducing the politics that have produced an extreme Democrat-friendly gerrymander.

Mr. Hogan and State House leaders also will be hunting for ways to raise revenue, notably for education, after he helped roll back $1.2 billion worth of taxes, tolls and fees, many of them shepherded by his predecessor, Democrat Martin O’Malley.

The governor said his approval ratings, approaching 80 percent in some surveys, gives him “somewhat of a mandate” for his agenda.

“I think people have to know that Marylanders like what we’re doing, and so maybe the folks in the legislature shouldn’t oppose everything we’re trying to do,” he told WBAL radio.

But most of his role likely will be playing defense against a legislature that has veto-proof Democratic majorities in both chambers.

“The analogy of the goalie, I think, is a great one,” said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “It’s just that they’ve got a pretty sizable offense lined up against that goalie trying to score.”

A key early battle could be a Democratic push to raise the state’s minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 an hour, more than twice the rate in nearby Virginia, which adheres to the current federal minimum of $7.25.

Mr. Hogan said the higher wage sounds good but could cost the state by moving so far in front of its neighbor.

He also is cool on a Democratic push to impose a fee on residents who fail to have health insurance filling in for the zeroed-out federal “individual mandate” tax penalty.

But he and Democratic leaders also have indicated that there is room to work together on lowering drug prices in the state.

To generate revenue, the governor said he is open to legalizing sports betting in Maryland but is less apt than some Democratic leaders to push for legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who served from 2003 to 2007, said Mr. Hogan will have to pick his spots because there is no chance of enacting a fully Republican agenda in Maryland.

“You’re always going to have a more limited menu as a Republican governor, so you pick and choose,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

He said that is particularly true with newly elected Democrats looking to push longtime Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and other party leaders further to the left.

“It makes Mike Miller’s job more difficult, for example,” he said. “It makes it much more difficult for traditional liberals, I think, to negotiate with Republicans.”

One of the biggest political fights looming for Mr. Hogan is over redistricting.

The governor said he will renew his push to have a nonpartisan commission draw the state’s congressional and legislative lines after the 2020 census, combating the skewed lines Democrats have drawn in the past.

“I say to him, ‘Bravo,’” said former Rep. Connie Morella, a Republican who fell victim to the state’s post-2000 redistricting process. She said Mr. Hogan should be applauded for his persistence on the issue.

The governor’s proposals on the matter have not gained traction, and he had to veto a legislative plan in 2017 that would have created an independent redistricting process, but only as long as a handful of nearby states did as well. Mr. Hogan called that a political ploy.

Court rulings also could force action.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this year involving the congressional map drawn after the 2010 census that reduced the Republican Party to a single safe district.

Redistricting reform “is the one that I think he’d absolutely love to have his legacy be,” Mr. Eberly said. “That he finally got reform through the legislature perhaps even in the constitution of the state.”

Mr. Hogan is term-limited and must cede the governor’s mansion after the next election, raising questions about what might come next.

Ms. Morella predicted that Mr. Hogan’s legacy could open doors for a run for Congress if he doesn’t move back into the private sector.

“I know there’s been talk about [a] presidential candidacy who knows? Who knows?” she said.

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