CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: Is Larry Hogan a unicorn among Republican governors?

Tricia Bishop
Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland, on March 4, 2021. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

There’s something slightly ridiculous about feeling the need to praise Maryland’s Republican governor for taking rational steps and making reasonable statements before national media, as if his actions represent some sort of singular, unicorn moment. But given that much of that party’s faithful has, in just the past five months, tried to: overturn the presidential election, overthrow the government, gaslight voters and, now, is in the process of ostracizing members who fail to show proper fealty to Donald Trump and his “Big Lie” baloney, many of Larry Hogan’s moves and comments so far this May suggest a sparkly horn could indeed sprout from his pate at any moment.

First came his vaccine incentive program for state workers, offering $100 payments to those who get inoculated against COVID-19 and agree to receive booster shots as recommended over the next 18 months. To be fair, I should note that West Virginia’s Republican governor came up with a $100 incentive plan first, and the figure is not exactly a life-changing amount. But compared to Republican politicians in other states who are shunning the vaccine (including Kentucky Sen. Rand “throw your mask away” Paul and Wisconsin Sen. Ron “what do you care if your neighbor [is vaccinated] or not?” Johnson), Hogan’s embrace of it is refreshing.

It might even encourage a few folks who had been putting off the shot to schedule an appointment, though adoption is already high in Maryland. I don’t see it making much difference to the vast majority of Republicans who oppose coronavirus vaccination on political grounds, however, which is a shame, given that the single most important thing we can do right now to help ourselves and one another is put an end to this pandemic as fast as possible.

“This American Life” ran a frightening (yet fascinating) episode last month, called “The Herd” that showed what it would take to change the minds of the roughly 40% of Republicans who’ve said they have no intention of getting the COVID-19 vaccination, and it’s close to an act of God.

The mistrust of government and misunderstanding of the medicine is huge among this group, along with a general resistance to being told what to do for the so-called public good. Public service messages from politicians, in particular, were ineffective. What moved the needle in the focus group the show focused on were the right facts delivered in the right way (“We want to be educated, not indoctrinated,” said one participant), and appealing to a person’s emotional side. That’s a lot of one-on-one work ahead, and I’d encourage the governor to think bigger in his approach and to use facts and emotions as his guides.

This weekend, Hogan also made national headlines for two separate acts. On Saturday, he issued “full posthumous pardons” to 34 Black victims of lynching in Maryland between the years 1854 and 1933. He was rather self-congratulatory about the move, which could be described as both common sense and way-too-little-too-late (more on that in a minute), telling listeners at his news conference that with this decision the state was “once again leading the way” in civil rights. That seems to ignore a whole lot of history in which Maryland desperately wanted to be part of the south, resisted desegregation, and furthered all kinds of inequities we still grapple with today. But the real issue I have is in the use of the pardon itself.

It suggests that these 34 people, one as young as 13, had undergone some kind of fair due process and justly been found guilty of the crimes for which they’d been accused — before being seized (in one case “by a mob of masked men”), beaten and then hanged or shot. It appears, of course, that for most the real crime was simply being Black in Maryland. And that’s not something that should require a pardon. Hogan should have known that tool wasn’t the right one for this reckoning, but I’m glad he recognizes the value in acknowledging the wrongs of the past, even if it was, as the state’s NAACP has charged “political posturing.”

And then, on Sunday, Hogan took on the whole Republican Party, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that forcing members to “swear fealty to the dear leader” or “get kicked out” represents a “sort of a circular firing squad where we’re just attacking members of our own party instead of focusing on solving problems or standing up and having an argument that we can debate the Democrats on.”

Amen to that.

While I’ve found fault with many of our governor’s policies that hit close to home, particularly regarding education in Baltimore City, he clearly has aspirations for political life on a bigger stage, and separating himself from Donald Trump is a national strategy I can appreciate. He’s reading the tea leaves and finding his niche.

It’s been said that Hogan rarely makes a move without polling first, and if that’s even half true, it means he’s asking people what they want and then giving it to them. That’s not a bad tack for a politician — as long as his sample is wide.

— Tricia Bishop is The Sun’s opinion editor.