Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan won a resounding reelection victory last month despite his state’s Democratic leanings and an anti-GOP mood nationwide. Hogan sat down with Madelaine Pisani last week at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, to discuss his campaign, his differences with the president, and his strategy for working with opposing-party majorities in the legislature.
In other midterm races, we saw Democrats picking up wins in places where Hillary Clinton did well in 2016, but you and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker bucked that trend. How did you do it, and what did you do better than the governors that couldn’t?
I think Hillary won [Maryland] by 30 points; it was one of her biggest wins in the country. … Four years ago, I was kind of the biggest surprise upset in America when I became the second Republican elected in 50 years there. But this race was very unique in that, in a year that there was a big blue wave—we’re in a deep blue state with a really big blue wave with a big Democratic turnout—we won because I was able to win a third of all the Democratic votes, nearly 30 percent of all the African-American votes even though I was running against a gentleman who would have been the first black governor, who was a former leader of the NAACP. And we won women, which most Republicans did not win. And we broke even with Hispanic voters. We outperformed in every category across the state.
And a lot of it was because I wasn’t your typical Republican and I had separated myself from what was going on in Washington. I stood up on issues when I thought it was important to take a different position than the administration. I stayed focused on my job running the state, which a majority of people in Maryland, regardless of their party affiliation, thought ... was going in the right direction, and they approved of the job I was doing. So we were able to overcome some of the obstacles that people did not in other states.
Are you and President Trump inherently different categories of Republican?
I would say so.
Are there things in your campaign or governing styles that you can learn from each other or emulate?
I think he could learn a few things from me. [Laughs]. No, I think we’re completely different in tone and the way we conduct ourselves. I think people saw me as almost the polar opposite of the president in Maryland. He had a 23 percent approval rating; we had over 70 percent approval rating among the same people. … People saw me as a regular guy who was a nice guy. And they didn’t see me as an angry person. We were trying to find a middle ground where everyone could come together. … And that’s sort of the opposite of what’s going on in Washington: not a lot of reaching across the aisle, a lot of name-calling, a lot of divisiveness, and not a lot getting done. We got a heck of a lot done in a really tough environment, and I think people want to see progress and I think they want a more civil debate. They want people to disagree without being disagreeable. And I think that’s the major difference between the two of us.
You just created an emergency commission to redraw the 6th District, kind of sidestepping the legislature. Is that something we’re going to see this second term a little bit more?
No, not at all. So the unanimous, three-judge federal court ruled that we have to draw a new district by March 7th. So we had to get to work. The legislature is not in session until the middle of January, so we couldn’t really waste any time. We proposed no-partisan redistricting; we’re going to do it for a fourth time in January, and we will work together with the legislature. This was an emergency commission put together to fix one district that the court is ordering us to do. But it’s going to be done in an open, transparent manner with Democrats, Republicans, independents all working together, removing the politics of it. And it wasn’t going around the legislature—we simply can’t get a district drawn by March if we start in the middle of January.
Are we going to see a difference in the way you work with the legislature this term compared to last term?
I’m hoping we’ll be able to get even more done. Maybe that’s being naive, but for four years there were some folks who kind of focused a lot of their attention on defeating me because they wanted to have a Democratic governor and so they spent a lot of time thinking, “How do we beat Hogan?” Now that I’m a lame duck, the day after the election it’s like, “We don’t have to worry about him anymore! Why not? Let's listen to his ideas.” And we’ve already developed great relationships with the presiding officers in the House and the Senate. … I think they’re going to be less hostile than they were for the first four years because I’m sort of yesterday’s news now.
Where do you think the future of the Republican Party is headed? Is it your direction, or President Trump’s direction, or is there some middle ground?
I don’t think that it can continue to head in the direction it’s heading, where you’re appealing to a smaller and smaller base of people. I think the same is true of the Democratic Party. Both parties are shrinking their base, moving further to the extremes of either party. … There’s a huge majority of people in the middle, which is where I’ve always been and where I’ve governed from. I think there’s a future in both parties to be more open to and more inclusive to people that may not agree with them on everything. … That’s the way it used to be. There used to be many more moderates in both parties. And now there’s a lot of people that are moderate, but there are not a lot of elected officials that are. So I think that’s the future, is getting back to where we were, say, when Ronald Reagan was president and got along great with Tip O'Neill as the speaker of the House. I mean, that’s the kind of thing we don’t see today. Today you yell at somebody and call them a name, but you wouldn’t sit down and have a beer with them.
In your first term, you implemented a task force and several subsequent policies to address the opioid epidemic. Could you talk a little about the impact of the task force and where the state is now in dealing with the issue?
[In 2014], we put together an emergency heroin and opioid task force that was chaired by the lieutenant governor. We went around the state holding public hearings where hundreds of people showed up. … They came up with 38 recommendations, all of which we turned into law and implemented, including prescription-drug monitoring programs, double the amount of treatment beds; we put money into education, prevention, treatment, interdiction. We went after it more aggressively than just about anybody in the country. Then I became the first governor in America to declare a state of emergency. We’re treating it exactly like we would a natural disaster—because it was killing more people in spite of all those things—and investing $600 million in our small state. We dialed down the number of prescription-opioid deaths by 8 percent and the number of heroin-overdose deaths by 20 percent—that’s the good news. The bad news is in 2015-16 ... we had a 70 percent spike in fentanyl deaths. So it’s still the most difficult problem facing our state and every other state.
Did it play into the election very much?
Not really. They know what a big problem it is, but they know that we were working hard on it, so I don’t think it was a positive issue; it wasn’t a negative issue. They were just like, “Thanks for working on it; we sure hope you can fix it.”