Anthony Brown is the best choice for Maryland’s next Governor

Editor’s Note: This column represents the views of the author and not necessarily Baltimore Post-Examiner.

The contest between Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and businessman Larry Hogan is not just a battle of ideologies, but also of style.

Watching Brown on the stump or in debates gives the viewer the impression of seeing someone who basically believes in active government, but isn’t yet comfortable shouting it from the rooftops.

The lieutenant governor is well-versed in talking points and knowledgeable on the issues after having had a hand in crafting policy in the O’Malley administration over the last eight years. He brings some unique strengths to the campaign, not the least of which are  his compelling biography of military and public service and the potential to make history with his election as Maryland’s first black governor, and only the third black governor in United States history.

But while  Brown can be surprisingly generic and non-confrontational (“Once again, we are in agreement,” he seemed fond of saying in an October debate with his opponent), Hogan errs on the other side of the equation and then some. Priding himself in not being a career politician, he shuns political decorum and seems to relish his ability to turn heads with his campaign barbs and attack lines.

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (campaign courtesy)

In his campaign, the Republican nominee has been very clear about what he is opposed to (taxes) but less specific on policies he would fight for. This tendency would seem to be in line with his comments in a recent interview in which he said he would approach governing like a goalie, chiefly using his veto pen to thwart a Democratic-controlled legislature when it tries to go too far.

Polls show a close race despite Maryland’s Democratic tilt, and it’s clear that there’s a certain restlessness in the electorate. For a substantial number of Marylanders, Hogan’s unpolished campaigning style – a badge of honor for the avowed non-career politician – is no doubt refreshing.

But for a non-professional politician, Hogan seems to have made his share of political calculations this year. Running in deep blue Maryland, he has declined to run against the popular Firearms Safety Act that was championed by Governor Martin O’Malley, despite sending a questionnaire to the National Rifle Association that earned him an A from the notoriously stringent and unforgiving group based on his responses. He has refused to release the questionnaire, despite calls to do so from various gun-control groups such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in Maryland.

More troubling, he has been accused of secretly promising gun rights groups that he would appoint administrative to loosely interpret the law and turn a blind eye to violations of it. Hogan has denied this – but his refusal to release the questionnaire so that Maryland voters can know exactly what he promised the NRA doesn’t inspire confidence in him on this issue. The NRA announced its endorsement of Hogan last week.

Hogan’s main political strategy seems to consist of driving home the message that Maryland’s economy is in the dumps, and that Brown will continue to take it in the wrong direction. Tax hikes had taken $10 billion out of the pockets of Maryland families in O’Malley/Brown administration, he alleged during one debate, and “it’s crushed our economy.” Unemployment had doubled, he said, while Maryland’s economy ranked 49 out of 50 states.

Did Hogan really mean to say that the wealthy state of Maryland had an economy that was the second-worst in the nation? It’s a strong allegation, probably taken from the 2013 report by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which observed that Maryland had seen no GDP growth since 2012 (neighboring Virginia had only seen growth of 0.1 percent in the same time period.) Maryland’s rate of economic growth for the year, according to the report, lagged 48 out of 50 states, supporting Hogan’s claim.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan (Wikipedia)

Hogan likes to decry the way he believes Brown and O’Malley’s style of big government has “crushed our economy,” but he apparently feels no need to congratulate the administration on having steered Maryland’s unemployment rate to a mere 5.6 percent by September 2014 according to the Maryland Department of Labor, a figure that is well below the national average.

His claim that 200,000 Marylanders were unemployed was also hyperbolic: a glance at the website for Maryland’s Department of Labor could have told him that the up-to-date number was 173, 119.

And finally, the candidate seizes on every bit of bad news to hammer home his message of change while hoping that voters have a short enough memory to believe that Maryland’s economic problems have been unique to the state. To hear Hogan tell it, you would think that it was O’Malley’s election, and not a global financial crisis, that pushed the state’s economy from decent to terrible to middling today.

Brown, by contrast, is a quasi-incumbent who has an interest in celebrating the progress that Maryland has made under his watch – and fortunately for him, there are things to celebrate. In recent years, Maryland has led the nation in college affordability. Crime has fallen to levels that haven’t been seen in four decades. The unemployment rate has dropped dramatically over the last four years as America emerges from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Thanks to O’Malley’s decision to expand Medicaid, hundreds of thousands more Marylanders have health insurance today. This surge has complimented his 2007 efforts to fund Medicaid expansion for more children and their parents through a cigarette tax – just one of the 40 tax hikes that Hogan conveniently lumps together as an assault on all Marylanders.

And nothing has taken place in the last eight years that should make Marylanders more hopeful for their state than the strides made in the development and affordability of renewable energy. O’Malley and Brown have been energetic safeguards of the environment, passing laws and programs to encourage tens of thousands of homes and small businesses to slash their own energy costs by embracing fuel and lighting efficiency, taking rebates and tax credits to fund the initial transition. The renewable energy law aimed at reducing energy consumption by 15 percent by 2015 – the EmPOWER Maryland initiative – has transformed thousands of homes and small business already, and seems on track to meet its goal.

There have been setbacks and embarrassments over the last eight years. Even O’Malley readily acknowledges that the state’s Obamacare rollout was a disaster, and the state has yet to recoup the tens of millions of dollars that were wasted paying a company for the design of the failed health care exchange website.

But whatever failures there have been – and there were some – the last eight years just don’t add up to the unmitigated disaster that Larry Hogan has labeled them. Maryland’s voters are certainly better off than they were four years ago – and in the flurry of reforms and green energy initiatives, the last thing this state needs is a “goalie” to block future progress.

To safeguard the achievements of the last eight years and accomplish still more for the state, Anthony Brown is the best choice for Maryland’s next Governor.