By Barry Rascovar
There’s a little bit of Donald Trump in Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
Demands of obedience from the co-equal branches of government. His pandering to the far-right of the Republican Party. His refusal to compromise and blame others when things go wrong. His recent descent into the political gutter by giving credence to “fake news.”
The state’s governor continues to perform a delicate balancing act – distancing himself ever so carefully from the Republican president’s offensive behavior and then pandering to Maryland’s hard-core conservative Trump supporters.
One day he opposes the white supremacist actions in Charlottesville, Va., and quickly removes a symbol of racism from the State House grounds.
But he follows up with actions that appeal to law-and-order hard-liners and then makes political points with right-wingers by furthering their “fake news” story about a phantom movement to sack the state flag.
How Trumpian of Hogan.
The president regularly flays Congress and his own party’s leaders for not marching in lock-step behind him. He denounces judges who disagree with him, sometimes in harsh, ugly terms. He feeds the worst instincts of his followers. And he revels in perpetrating outright lies and convincing his followers that straight news reporting is fraudulent.
In Maryland, the state’s Republican governor demands that judges in Baltimore City follow his tough-on-criminals commandment: Thou shalt not hand out suspended sentences to gun-law violators.
He set up a meeting with city judicial leaders to lecture them and pressure them to crack down on repeat law-breakers.
The state’s top judge, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, termed Hogan’s request “inappropriate” and cited the judiciary’s code of conduct which states a judge “shall not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism.” City judges, she wrote, will not attend.
That didn’t stop Hogan from making political points with his base of angry supporters. He called Barbera’s action “misguided” – since it blew up plans to stage a highly publicized event in which the star of the show would be Larry Hogan. [Editor’s Note: The Baltimore City Criminal Justice Coordinating Council includes the judges, prosecutors, the governor and two Hogan cabinet secretaries. Hogan called for a closed meeting.]
Now Hogan, like Trump, has an easy target to blame, in this case for the lack of progress in stemming Baltimore’s murderous crime rate. The notion that judicial independence would have been severely compromised didn’t faze him at all.
It’s similar to the way he denounces Democratic Senate and House leaders when his legislative agenda goes up in flames – even though Hogan is as much to blame as House Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller.
Perpetuating “fake news”
But this governor, like Trump, is never wrong and is never at fault when his best-laid plans are sidetracked – sometimes by his own stupidity (such as not allowing administration officials to testify on bills or refusing to honor information requests from Democratic legislators).
Now Hogan has decided to capitalize on “fake news,” another Trump specialty. He happily jumped on board a totally fictionalized assertion by a right-wing website [Red Maryalnd] that “radicals” in the state legislature were about to change the state flag due to localized Confederate ties during the Civil War.
The flag, Hogan told his most fervent cheerleaders, “will never be changed as long as I’m governor.”
There’s only one problem: The flag isn’t “under attack” as Hogan’s far-right acolytes maintain. The whole thing was made up by a conservative media outlet to whip its followers into a frenzy and sign a petition to save a state flag that doesn’t need saving.
Thanks, governor, for displaying such strong leadership to further this “fake news” cycle. It’s just what we need in Maryland – another emotionally charged non-issue that deflects from the far more difficult job of governing in perilous times.
MarylandReporter.com is a daily news website produced by journalists committed to making state government as open, transparent, accountable and responsive as possible – in deed, not just in promise. We believe the people who pay for this government are entitled to have their money spent in an efficient and effective way, and that they are entitled to keep as much of their hard-earned dollars as they possibly can.