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Meet Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Trump

Larry Hogan during debate with Ben Jealous. Maryland Public Television.

Two years before Donald Trump rode the Tea Party wave into the White House, Larry Hogan captured the Maryland governor’s mansion with the help of this same energy.

As the Tea Party was gaining strength – born of a distrust of government and media, and white backlash against the first black president – so was Change Maryland, the group Hogan created three years before his improbable 2014 run for governor. Change Maryland is “almost a Tea Party movement in [a] state that really doesn’t seem to be Tea Party friendly,” political scientist Todd Eberly said in 2011. They’re “tapping into the same force.”

Both the Tea Party and Hogan’s Change Maryland mastered the art of using anger to draw attention on social media – particularly on Facebook, which Hogan deftly used to raise his profile, and where angry voices are algorithmically favored. “It’s like Trump with the Twitter,” Hogan said of his own Facebook use.

The similarities between Hogan and Trump don’t end with social media. While then-candidate Trump was attacking the national press, Governor Hogan was doing the same thing locally. In at least three angry Facebook posts Hogan not only ranted about the Baltimore Sun – calling it, among other things, “Silly, trivial, stupid, and whiny” and “fake news… a joke” – but drove his point home with a stark image: a big red “X” painted over the paper.

Image created from three separate Hogan Facebook posts by Julia Kann.

This August Hogan’s hostility to the press reared its head again. Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network attempted to question Hogan about the right-wing Koch brothers’ donor network – specifically its funding of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, an organization where Hogan served as a director, and that has been called “Hogan’s think tank.” At first Hogan responded to Noor with a denial – “the Koch brothers had absolutely nothing to do with it” – then abruptly ended the interview, calling Noor’s outlet “pretty fake news.”

In addition to “Hogan’s think tank,” the Koch network, which bankrolled the Tea Party movement, supports Hogan’s campaign and the Republican Governors Association, where Hogan serves as vice chair. The RGA has spent over $4 million on TV ads attacking Hogan’s Democratic opponent, Ben Jealous (who I support). While Hogan is happy to accept the Koch network’s funding, he’s understandably touchy about being affiliated with the Kochs because these ties could only hurt him in a state that’s 2 to 1 Democratic.

While Hogan benefitted from the same energy that lifted Trump, the two couldn’t be treated more differently by the Washington Post. Lucky for Hogan, the paper, which is hugely influential in the vote-rich Maryland counties outside D.C., is determined to get Hogan reelected, as I’ve previously written. That’s why the paper keeps quiet about the governor’s Tea Party-like origins and ties to the Kochs.

While the Post calls out Trump for his boorish behavior, including towards the media, the paper gives a pass to Hogan, who it describes as “pretty much the opposite of Trump.” Since Trump took office Hogan has mostly stopped his attacks on the press, maybe to avoid comparisons to the president, who is deeply unpopular in Maryland. But Hogan hasn’t completely reformed his ways, as the recent incident with The Real News demonstrates.

When leaders like Trump attack the media it makes violence against journalists more likely, as demonstrated by the recent mail bombs targeting Trump critics, including CNN. Another chilling reminder of the dangerous climate came this summer in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where a gunman shot his way into the Capital Gazette’s newsroom, killing five and wounding two others.

Anne Arundel Republicans

Governor Hogan’s judicial appointee wasn’t on the bench a full year when he took a smiling photo with Roy Moore, the disgraced former judge whose far-right views lean toward white nationalism. Judge Mark Crooks, Hogan’s appointee and former deputy counsel, made his tacit endorsement at a September 2017 fundraiser for Moore in Anne Arundel, Maryland, as Moore was seeking to fill the Alabama senate seat previously held by Jeff Sessions, who Trump appointed Attorney General.

Crooks, like Hogan, is an Anne Arundel Republican official, a group that includes several right-wing extremists. The Post is careful to portray Hogan as a million miles away from this zealotry, even though he’s not that far removed.

While Hogan didn’t support Moore or attend the September fundraiser, several of his fellow Anne Arundel Republicans did. In addition to Hogan’s judicial appointee, the Hogan-backed Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh took his own smiling photo with Moore and afterwards donated $1,000 to the campaign. Two months later, when Moore was accused of having sexual encounters with teenager girls as an adult, Schuh stayed quiet. It wasn’t until The Arundel Patriot published Schuh’s photo with Moore that the county executive denounced Moore as a “creeper” and asked for his donation back.

Meanwhile another Republican official at the fundraiser, Anne Arundel County Councilman Michael Peroutka, continued supporting Moore even after the sexual molestation accusations. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Peroutka has donated an eye-popping $600,000-plus to Moore’s political campaigns and right-wing organization, the Foundation for Moral Law, which helps explain why Peroutka was on stage with Moore the night of his primary victory. Unlike a number of his fellow Anne Arundel Republicans, Hogan doesn’t support Peroutka, although they did appear together on a 2014 mailer, mistakenly, said Hogan.

Peroutka’s history is nothing less than shocking. Up until the eve of his 2014 election to the Anne Arundel County Council, Peroutka was a member of the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. Even as a councilman Peroutka continued supporting some of the group’s positions. It wasn’t until June 2017, just days before neo-Nazi David Duke keynoted the League of the South’s annual conference, that Peroutka finally denounced the group. Six months later, in a party-line vote, all four Republicans on the Anne Arundel County Council elected Peroutka Council chairman, his present position.

While Hogan doesn’t support Peroutka, he’s not that far removed from him. The governor supports County Executive Schuh, who in turn backs Peroutka, calling him “a throwback” who “does not have a malicious bone in his body.” (Despite Schuh’s support Peroutka narrowly lost his reelection bid in the June primary.)

Meanwhile the Hogan-backed Schuh supports another extremist, Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso, who is running for state Senate. Grasso has accused former President Obama of being, among other things, “the bastard child of a bigamous marriage” and a male prostitute who “had sex with older white men in exchange for cocaine.” Grasso also targets Muslims (“Share if you think President Trump should ban Islam in American Schools”), the LGBTQ community (“Folks keep talkin’ about another civil war. One side has 8 trillion bullets. The other doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”), immigrants and African Americans. These Grasso Facebook posts, all from this summer and fall, were reported on by The Arundel Patriot.

John Grasso is motivated by only [one] thing,” the Hogan-backed Schuh told the Capital Gazette in October. “He wants to make the community a better place. He wants to help people and animals.” Meanwhile a smiling Hogan can be seen on a flier endorsing a slate of fellow Anne Arundel Republicans, including Grasso, as being “exactly the type of leaders we need in Annapolis.” Hogan claims this flier, like the earlier one, was made in error. “[The governor] has not and will never endorse John Grasso for anything,” Hogan’s campaign told the Capital Gazette.

But Grasso, whose campaign sent out the flier, believed he had the governor’s endorsement up until Grasso’s September anti-Muslim outbursts, which triggered a backlash. “I was informed that I do not have the support of Governor Hogan. I am disappointed by this,” Grasso wrote in an October 3 Facebook post. “I very much want Governor Hogan to win and he has my full support.”

Meanwhile, as these Republican officials engage in hateful rhetoric, an increasing number of Marylanders are taking the next step. Hate incidents in the state have gone up sharply since 2015, when Hogan took office.

To become the first Maryland Republican governor to win reelection in over 60 years, Hogan will need strong Democratic support, but there’s no way he’ll get it if he’s associated with Peroutka and Grasso. It’s a testament to Hogan’s political skill that he’s seen as have nothing to do with them; the Washington Post has a hand in this too.

The paper routinely portrays Hogan as “moderate” and “civil,” even as the governor railed against sanctuary cities, sat silently by as Trump banned Muslims from entering the country, and ran a possibly racially tinged ad (here) against his Democratic opponent Ben Jealous, who is seeking to become Maryland’s first black governor.

Brett Kavanaugh

When Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when they were teenagers, the Post was all over the story, covering it from every imaginable angle – save one.

At a September 21 news conference Hogan was asked if he would direct the Maryland State Police to investigate Ford’s claim, since the alleged incident took place in Bethesda, Maryland. “The Maryland State Police will not be getting involved in this,” Hogan tersely replied, offering no explanation for his decision. While other outlets reported on Hogan’s hard ‘no’ – “Maryland governor rebuffs call for criminal investigation,” began a headline at The Intercept – the Post kept quiet.

Reporting on the hard ‘no’ would have placed Hogan squarely on Trump’s side, so the Post waited, even as the paper seemed to cover little else but Kavanaugh’s nomination. Nearly a week passed before the Post was ready to report on the matter, now that it had the storyline it wanted. “Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan calls for delay in Kavanaugh vote,” blared a Post headline. Earlier that day Hogan and two other blue-state Republican governors called for Kavanaugh’s nomination to be delayed until some unspecified federal investigation could take place. This allowed the Post to place Hogan in opposition to Trump, exactly where he needs to be to win reelection.

Opioids

As he ran for office four years ago, Larry Hogan blamed then-Governor Martin O’Malley for the opioid epidemic’s devastating impact on Maryland. At the time the state’s annual opioid-related death count was approaching 900 and Hogan vowed that upon taking office, “I will immediately declare a state of emergency.” But he didn’t. Hogan instead created a task force, and waited over two years before declaring a state of emergency – as the death toll skyrocketed.

What’s more, Hogan initially and inexplicably attempted to cut funding for both drug treatment and the state’s Medicaid system. The funding was restored but precious time was lost. “If only [politicians] understood that getting access to Medicaid would actually save money and lives!” a psychologist volunteering on the frontlines of the epidemic told Beth Macy, author of Dopesick, an eye-opening account of how the opioid epidemic is playing out next door in Virginia.

By 2016 Maryland had the fourth most per-capita opioid-related deaths in the country. In just three and a half years under Hogan, the state has had more opioid-related deaths (6,139) than in the preceding eight years under O’Malley (5,019).

The raging epidemic led the Baltimore Sun to sound the alarm in back-to-back front page stories in October. “Opioids continue to haunt: As candidate, Hogan vowed to take on ‘epidemic.’ Yet deaths soared,” read a banner frontpage Sun headline.

The Washington Post used to also be concerned about Maryland’s opioid epidemic. When the state’s annual opioid-related death count stood at 1,100, the Post criticized Hogan for pushing “incremental change” in the face of an epidemic. But as the death toll exploded – 1,850 in 2016, 2,000 in 2017, and climbing higher still in 2018– the Post became increasingly sanguine. “Broadly speaking, [Hogan is taking] the right approach” and Jealous wouldn’t do any better, the Post explained in August, essentially shrugging its shoulders and throwing in the towel. The paper’s endorsing editorial of Hogan doesn’t even mention the subject.

How many lives have been lost because Hogan placed right-wing, anti-Medicaid ideology above the needs of Marylanders? And how many more because the Post is placing its political agenda – getting Hogan reelected – ahead of vigorously reporting on Maryland’s raging epidemic?

Of course it’s not just Maryland’s opioid epidemic that the Post has downplayed ahead of the election. The paper has also turned a blind eye to the state’s surging hate crimes, as well as Hogan’s ties to the Kochs and indirect ties to even further right-wing extremists.

Voters head to the polls next week. Many Post readers will cast their ballots for the sanitized Larry Hogan who appears in the paper each morning, unaware of who they’re really reelecting.

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Pete Tucker is a journalist based in DC. He can be reached at his website.

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