In an upbeat atmosphere punctuated by laughter and applause, Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot vowed to continue blurring party lines as they work together, and answered a series of revealing questions.
Participating in “A Conversation,” hosted by the Greater Salisbury Committee and held at Headquarters Live on Monday, Hogan and Franchot were seated on easy chairs on the stage, with Mike Dunn, GSC President and CEO.
“I have spent a lot of time on the Eastern Shore, a lot of time on the Lower Shore,” said a relaxed Hogan, who crossed his legs as he sat back in the chair, microphone in hand.
“When I was running for governor we spent a lot of time here. I got the feeling when I was running for office that the Eastern Shore felt kind of neglected,” he said, but he promised the Shore would get recognition and a listening ear from Annapolis.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.
Franchot brought laughter when he said the first public joint meeting with Hogan was in Montgomery County, “to see if it would work.”
He offered good wishes to Steve Leonard, newly named president of Peninsula Regional Medical Center, in the audience, and recognized Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms, for leading a company “at the forefront of environmental sustainability.”
Salisbury University, he said, “was built with chicken money.”
Franchot said everywhere he travels in the state, he is told constituents dislike arguing and name calling and want to see safe schools and streets – desires that aren’t Republican or Democratic, but Maryland based.
Although the men don’t agree on every issue, they don’t “tear each other down in public” and have become friends, Franchot said to applause.
Chuckling, Hogan added they don’t tear each other down in private, either.
“There is a lighted path moving forward from where we are. I think it’s a path that is going to bring us back to civility and respect for each other … we’re starting on that path,” Franchot said.
Dunn asked Hogan how the idea of working together without partisan barriers originated.
“Before I ran for governor I was frustrated with the direction the state was heading. I wanted to do something about it … in Maryland only 26 percent of the voters are Republican, but we won a pretty healthy victory because we brought people together,” he said.
After his election, he met with Franchot and they agreed they are in office to represent the people and look out for the taxpayers’ money.
“We don’t let politics get in the way. As I was running for governor, that was one of the things that frustrated me. I didn’t want Maryland to be like Washington. And frankly, people are tired of what they are seeing in Washington,” Hogan said.
But their first meeting “didn’t start out that well,” Franchot said.
“He reminded me I called for his resignation years ago when he worked for (former Maryland Gov.) Bob Ehrlich. I quite frankly had forgotten about that because I call for so many people’s resignations,” he said to laughter.
Dunn asked what the men say to members within each of their parties who want to see strong, separate party lines.
“I work for the people,” Franchot said.
A few lawmakers speak negatively about Hogan, “but there are only two or three of them.”
“There’s a little bit of heat, but hey, the temperature’s just fine. Come on in,” Franchot said.
Hogan said nearly everyone he talks to in Maryland “believes that we ought to be working together.”
“We’re trying to get things done. I couldn’t care less about heat,” he said, calling the idea that Democrats and Republicans should avoid each other “insane.”
Concerning workforce development, Hogan said the state has a nationally recognized program and that millions of dollars are being invested in training.
“If he wasn’t collecting the taxes, we couldn’t have these programs,” Hogan said about Franchot, who added more than $2.5 billion in tax money is going back to Marylanders in income tax returns this year.
“My message to the legislature is, do no harm, for crying out loud,” Franchot said.
“The governor is very emphatic that we need big tax cuts … I am just saying at a minimum could we please have a moratorium … so the private sector can have confidence over the next five years the people won’t have the rug pulled out from under them? The timing is really bad right now for adding extra injections of good intentions into the legislature,” Franchot said.
Hogan credited Franchot for schools now beginning after Labor Day, which will help with employment in Ocean City. Franchot credited state Sen. Jim Mathias for “being a champion.”
“We have cut taxes by $700 million,” Hogan said.
A few years ago, thousands of businesses were lost, but more have been started. The state is now in first place in job creation, moving from last to first.
The Lower Shore, Western Maryland and Baltimore City have not seen the rate of growth the rest of the state has, so he has introduced legislation to help areas that need it the most, to waive all state taxes for 10 years for existing businesses, Hogan said.
“It has the ability to help us bring thousands of new jobs to the Lower Shore, Western Maryland and Baltimore City,” Hogan said.
Concerning the offshore wind initiative, Hogan said the initiative passed, is law and is now before the Public Service Commission. A decision is expected in May.
“The proposals have to show there is going to be economic benefit, which they should be able to do … I can assure you legislation is moving rapidly … somebody is going to probably win a bid and somebody is going to start creating some jobs,” Hogan said.
Franchot, too, supports offshore wind, but said it irritates him that some want to pay for it by adding a fee to the ratepayers’ bills. “A hundred dollars might not be a tremendous amount to someone like me, but no to soaking the ratepayers to pay for it,” he said.
Agreeing, Hogan said the legislature passed a bill last year that amounted to a $100 million to $200 million increase on electric bills, even though it won’t help Maryland, but create jobs outside the state.
“We’re totally against forcing a $200 million, or $100 million, increase on people who are already struggling.”
He vetoed the bill, but it passed. “That’s not good,” he said.
Responding to a question asked by Dunn about Wallops Island, Hogan said it is critically important to the Lower Shore. He said a new governor will take over in Delaware and Virginia, and he will talk to them and be sure they understand the importance.
But Franchot said the “800-pound elephant in the room where that is concerned is Donald Trump.”
“I happen to think this individual is not fundamentally a good guy. The problem is my party wants to transfer that reputation for recklessness and vulgarity over to Gov. Hogan. And Gov. Hogan is about as far from Donald Trump, as far as values and personal conduct, as any individual could possibly be.
“I’m here, partly because this is a good person. The state is lucky to have him right now at this point in our history. It’s disappointing to me to see the, I guess, strategy, although, apparently, it’s not having any influence on his poll numbers but I think it’s a mistaken strategy. It’s politics … it has nothing to do with real people,” he said.
Hogan said leaders of the House and Senate in Annapolis both said their No. 1 goal was to hurt Gov. Hogan’s popularity and the best way to do that was to tie Hogan to Trump.
“I’d rather focus on the problems right there at home,” Hogan said to applause.
He said he was asked why he isn’t protesting Trump, but he doesn’t believe that’s his role, plus he will have to establish a working relationship with the president’s administration.
“But just trying to tie me every day to what Donald Trump tweeted the other night is getting a little bit ridiculous,” the governor said.
The state’s heroin problem, Hogan said, “is a national crisis.”
‘When I was running for governor I would travel around the state and talk to people … I said ‘What’s the No. 1 problem facing your community?’ and everyone always said, “Heroin. It’s opioids and heroin.’ I wasn’t aware of how widespread it was until I started traveling across the state,” he said.
Meetings were held and initiatives determined and put into place, but the problem persists.
“It’s going to take the local, state, federal governments … We’ve got to reach kids early. It’s one of the biggest problems in the country.
“We’re putting money in every community, not just in the urban areas … the good news is, both the president of the Senate and the speaker of the house, in separate meetings with me, both said this is problem we want to work on,” the governor said.
Dunn, in his opening remarks, welcomed Hogan and Franchot.
“This is just an extraordinary day for the city of Salisbury, for Wicomico County. What these two gentlemen are doing in Annapolis is worth saluting,” he said.
“This community is on the rise. Wherever you look, there are great things happening. The fact that you two are here shows that,” Dunn said.
Headquarters Live, he said, represents the growth of the city and is “a perfect venue to show off what Salisbury is all about.”
Many familiar faces were in the audience, including members of Hogan’s staff; Sen. Jim Mathias; Delegates Mary Beth Carozza, Carl Anderton, Charles Otto and Chris Adams; Sen. Addie Eckardt; County Executive Bob Culver; Mayor Jake Day; County Council President John Cannon; University of Maryland Eastern Shore President Dr. Juliet Bell; President of Salisbury University Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach and President of Wor-Wic Community College Dr. Ray Hoy.
Culver, giving opening remarks, called the event “very special for Salisbury and Wicomico County.”
“We have admired you. Both of you have worked together for so long and this is how government is supposed to work. Jake and I, we take lessons from you,” he said to applause.
Day said the city is “very proud and honored that you chose Salisbury.”
“I also have to mention,” he said, smiling, “My Mom is in the audience.”
Day said when he gave Hogan a proclamation in the past, the governor told him it was the first time he received one from a municipality, so Day presented him, and Franchot, with another one proclaiming Feb. 13 as Bipartisan Day in Salisbury.
Reach Susan Canfora at email@example.com.