I really expected to see Larry Hogan at the grocery store by now.
The former governor of Maryland, who announced a surprise run for U.S. Senate on Friday, lives down the road a bit from me, even if our lives are worlds apart.
My wife and I live in a 1960s split-foyer just outside Annapolis. It took us 22 years to scrape up the money for central air. Hogan and former first lady Yumi Hogan live in a 5,600-square-foot brick pile on 5.9 acres in Davidsonville.
He’s got a five-bedroom manse with three and a half baths, a two-car attached garage, and a two-car detached garage. It has heated floors and three fireplaces. When the Hogans bought it a few years back, the kitchen had granite counters and stainless steel appliances, including two dishwashers and two ovens.
Maybe he’s done some renovations. I’m still cooking on a GE electric range made in 1977.
But we both eat, and that means shopping for food. Grocery stores are the watering hole of the Annapolis savannah — everyone goes eventually.
I chatted about grown kids with former Gov. Parris Glendening near the dairy case at one Giant, and years before that, I spotted then-state Comptroller Louis Goldstein reading the label on a box of rash cream at the other.
Goldstein said he liked to try out different shopping centers, and sure enough, the state employees pension fund that he helped run later bought that one.
I saw Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken shopping for fish at Whole Foods. Has anyone ever told you just how surprisingly huge he is? I tried out clever things to say to him in my head by way of an icebreaker.
“How ‘bout them baseballs?” or maybe, “Do you think you would have been a better player if you’d taken a seat occasionally?”
I kept walking.
No Hogan so far, though. Now that he’s running for office again — turning a boring contest between Democrats Angela Alsobrooks and David Trone for the honor of trouncing some anonymous Republican into a closely watched battle that could decide control of the U.S. Senate — I suppose I won’t anytime soon.
And that’s a shame because I’ve got some questions. What gives, Larry? You repeatedly said you didn’t want this job.
I’ve talked with him a couple of times over the years. Maryland’s not so grand and the governor so exalted that he’s out of reach.
As an editor, I interviewed Hogan twice for newspaper endorsements in his bids for governor. The last time took place in a makeshift newsroom down the street from the State House in 2018, and Hogan walked there with his aides.
He was polite and answered our questions, none of which was probably a surprise to him. I remember being struck at how small he was the second time around — 5-foot-7 with a fuzz of white hair.
After Hogan was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2015, he looked frail for a time. The steel-gray pompadour gave way to a shiny dome.
I’m glad he got better. Everyone was. I’ve often thought that he won his second term the day he leaned into that health scare, making recovery his public persona and a symbol of resilience in office.
Beating Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, now the attorney general, in 2014 was a triumph over exhaustion. Democrats were tired of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s guitar-strumming and didn’t turn out for his hoped-for successor, soured by tax increases that sustained government spending during the Great Recession.
Brown was busy measuring the drapes in the governor’s suite while Hogan was touring the state in a big black bus emblazoned with “Change Maryland” and Hogan’s name in red, yellow and white.
It was such an effective image maker that the Democratic Party filed a campaign finance complaint, arguing that Hogan bought the bus with his own money and then rented it to his campaign for less than it would have cost to lease one from someone else.
Yeah, the Democrats were caught looking the wrong way.
Compare that first win to Hogan’s re-election in 2018, when the 11% margin was enough that you have to think hard to name the Democrat tagged as the sacrificial loser. (Hint: No one has ever been jealous of that role).
Hogan didn’t seem all that interested in governing, just in being governor. If he had a style, it was government by inertia. Still, that’s a strategy other Republicans have turned to in a state where veto-proof Democrats control the legislature.
If Hogan found a few easy wins along the way — blasting the lack of air conditioning in 31 Baltimore City schools, lowering tolls or mandating that classes start after Labor Day — bully for him. He didn’t change his message, and found time to make seven trade trips overseas.
The change bus, though, never seemed to reach its destination. He scored no big legislative wins, his promise to cut a path through the regulatory thicket for economic growth never materialized and his private-public partnerships fizzled.
The governor scored points for his response to the unrest after Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore just three months into office, but spent the rest of his two terms unable to grasp that Maryland’s fortunes are tied to the success of its largest city.
If it weren’t for COVID-19, most people would remember Hogan only for what all governors do: showing up for parades, giving state-of-the-state addresses and slapping his name on the “Welcome to Maryland” signs.
In March 2020, of course, Hogan became our pandemic governor. His approach to restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the virus was too loose for some, too draconian for others. Probably about right. Those unworkable Korean test kits he got the state to buy were his worst decision.
The pandemic cost him politically. All those people who loved his big bus decided he was a vaccine dictator. It didn’t help that his party’s svengali of a president, Donald Trump, encouraged top health officials to study the injection of bleach as a way of fighting the virus. Hogan’s courage in confronting some of the president’s most disturbing moments lost him even more of his party’s support, even as it gained him respect from others.
Still, when Hogan left office, he left without much of a legacy. He left the party to Dan Cox, an oddball Trump acolyte who tried to impeach Hogan before running to succeed him, and Congressman Andy Harris. When Maryland’s lone Republican in Washington compared the governor’s COVID restrictions to communism, Hogan defended Harris’ right to say “crazy things.”
Then Democrat Wes Moore rolled to victory in the governor’s race on a tide of voter approval in 2022 and discovered what we all suspected. State agencies withered from eight years without leadership, and the same old problems waiting for a now more expensive solution. Turned out that doing nothing has a cost, after all.
Now Mr. Hogan, 67, wants to go to Washington. After all his dreams of breathing new life into the party of Ronald Reagan and his flirtation with a third-party run for president, the man from Davidsonville wants a spot in the last homely house of rational politics with a capital R attached.
It would be foolish to underestimate his chances. He’s smart, media-savvy and disciplined. He will most likely clobber his opponents in the May primary, and neither Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive, nor Trone, the liquor store millionaire who now represents Western Maryland in Congress, looks like an energizing choice for November.
With Trump almost assured to be on the ballot, President Joe Biden finding new ways to lose every day, and fierce debates over abortion rights, immigration, cost of living, the U.S. Supreme Court and foreign wars giving everyone the walking willies, it could come down to the same old thing that helped Hogan first win office a decade ago — voters who don’t turn out.
If I bump into Larry Hogan at the grocery, I don’t expect a good explanation of how he would change things in Washington. I’ll keep an eye out for him near the deli, though.
That’s where you can find the baloney.