Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Has the SUN gone mad to endorse Hogan?

Die-hard Republicans who have seen the Baltimore SUN as nothing but a liberal rag out to bash the Maryland Governor and the country's President at every turn may well have heart palpitations when they open their paper on Wednesday and see the SUN endorse Larry Hogan for Governor. A chorus of "wow" must have sounded out all across all those breakfast tables which are still graced by a printed newspaper. Liberals are aghast, even though (or because) the paper's endorsement is very tortured just as a similar endorsement by the Washington Post was on Oct. 10. In fact, the two editorial boards large make the same twisted and have it both ways arguments.
SUN endorsement Oct 24, 2018

This blog tries very hard to stay away from party politics and from assessing the state of urban affairs from the perspective of the personalities who shape them, even though personalizing politics and  policies has become a favorite game not only in the many online forums in which anybody can write anything about anybody but also in the the traditional media. But the SUN endorsement is something that touches on too many issues to be ignored.

Hogan and Jealous after the only public debate (AP): 16 points ahead 
First, this is the "Baltimore SUN" and not, say the "Maryland Mirror". It says so right in the masthead! One would imagine that as such the paper would recommend the candidate best for Baltimore City or the core region, not the one best for the poultry farmer or suburban developers in Cecil County.  But papers are in decline and as such, they apparently must bend to less principled positions. And then there is that entire complex of personality politics over policies which apparently makes Larry Hogan the more likable candidate, a matter that shouldn't be the base of the contest. Finally, there is the decline of traditional parties, a phenomenon not only in the US but more so in parliamentarian democracies elsewhere.
Mr. Hogan was true to his promise to steer clear of social issues like abortion and LGBT rights. He did not seek to weaken Maryland gun laws and even endorsed some measures to strengthen them. His administration worked closely with the General Assembly to shore up the Affordable Care Act and reform the criminal justice system. On the environment, no one will confuse him for the second coming of Parris Glendening, but his record is certainly much better than we might have expected on issues from fracking to air pollution to nutrient runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. (SUN editorial)
Republican Governor Charlie Baker, Mass.:  Off the charts popular 
A Republican governor candidate being popular in a blue state isn't an anomaly, nor is it unique to Maryland or a sign of schizophrenia.  The same thing currently plays out in blue Massachusetts. There incumbent Governor Charlie Baker beats Larry Hogan with the nation's highest approval rating of 70% in a state that has only 10% of voters are registered Republican.
What Mr. Hogan lacked, and continues to lack, in terms of a vision for Maryland’s future, he has made up for by brokering non-doctrinaire solutions, at odds in some cases with the narrow interests of his base of rural and exurban GOP voters. His stock in trade is neither charisma nor inspiring rhetoric, but few doubt his political acumen in keeping President Trump at arm’s length while holding the state’s Republicans close. (WP editorial)
A Republican governor in a mostly Democratic state has to contend with two chambers of representatives that have the majority, naturally must moderate his party's positions or would never succeed in anything. To what extent such moderation is a reflection of genuine moderate positions is sometimes hard to determine. Certainly, voters like to see non partisan politics and detest politicians who seem to march to a party program. Voters today seem less ideological, more pragmatic and not interested in past party allegiances. This isn't limited to Maryland or the US but plays out in Italy, Austria, Germany and England, often with the result that populists determine the agenda. The US with its winner takes all system which really allows only the two major parties to play, this new voter orientation is hard to accommodate. Popularity by politicians who don't sing off a party sheet appears to be a result, Baker and Hogan are examples, and in a different way, also Trump. 

Much less hard to determine is what Governor Hogan's decisions have done to Baltimore. True, he ran a campaign in which he was critical of almost anything Governor O'Malley had done or supported, regardless who had initiated it. In that vein, Hogan has campaigned both against the Red Line and he has also campaigned against the State Center revitalization project, in both cases with claims which are largely unsupportable. This is not the space to litigate the details of the claims and counter-claims, except to say that taking a combined sum of about $5 billion off the table in a city like Baltimore makes a difference. The money that both projects would have brought to a city reeling from so much inequity and segregation that it erupted into civil unrest in 2015 would have created jobs, taxes, social capital and better access to services and jobs. The one would have been a vital piece of new infrastructure, the other a vital piece of optimal utilization of existing infrastructure.
I love Baltimore and the people who call it home, and I sincerely believe that Maryland's biggest city must serve as the economic and cultural heart of our state. Larry Hogan
Critics of the Red Line or of State Center must admit, that no equivalent projects were offered as a substitute; the money just disappeared with a big sucking sound and there isn't anything in the pipeline that would bring an even remotely similar economic boost. It is hard to not take this simple economic fact as anything else as active disregard for the city. The Governor had four years to re-negotiate the terms of the State Center contract, but the truth his, he never once even met with the development team and his talk about alternative schemes consist of nothing but smoke and mirrors. Similarly, the rejection of $900 million federal funds for a transit project that had broad bi-partisan support from the start in 2002 was never underpinned with any type of analysis that supported any of the blatantly false assertions Hogan made, especially about the suggested transit tunnels and their cost estimates.
Link Bus: $135 million instead of $2.9 billion

Small grants and funds for a few extra buses, a small transit center, some bike stations, some more police, teachers or schools cannot make up for those lost billions, no matter the many photo opps they create for the Governor to declare his love of the city which in spite of everything is still the largest economic engine in Maryland.

Ok, people maybe tired to keep hearing about State Center and the Red Line by now and may be tempted to say, like the SUN, that otherwise the Governor was really good, wasn't he? The reality is, that Governor Hogan practices populist politics that are frequently based on similar principles as those in Washington. True, his environmental agenda could have been much worse (he supported a ban on fracking) and his incarceration reduction program was successful. His efforts towards a non-partisan redistricting commission are the only way forward and his opponent's comments on that topic are inexcusable.

But big red flags galore: For example his talk about the "rain tax" and that Democrats are just "tax and spend politicians". Decrying a funding stream that is directly based on run-off, the very thing that flooded Ellicott City, degrades streams and creeks all around Maryland, is just one example of this unfortunate populism. Fixing run-off, water and sewer systems  are enormous expenses that cannot be funded without those funds and without disincentivizing  run-off.
Hogan: Too much demolition, not enough rehabilitation

Or the States fund for demolition of Baltimore rowhouses (Project CORE): Hogan regularly touts those funds as special aid to the city, even though the total funding includes programs that were in place long before the Governor took office, and even though his additional funds are heavily slated towards demolition not new construction or rehabilitation, the true economic drivers. This caters to a simple populist approach common among suburban voters that one should "take down large parts of Baltimore and put a fence around it and call it a day". There is no doubt that project CORE has funded many good smaller projects, but one would be hard pressed to call it an adequate response to the unrest of 2015 of one of the richest States in the nation. The SUN editorial finds praise for Hogan sending the National Guard in 2015, but fact is, that to this day Baltimore cannot point to any single thing that could be considered a response commensurate to the problem this city has with population loss, violence and economic and racial segregation. The Mayor, seeking to be on the governor's good side has repeatedly received his cold shoulder instead, with heaps of thinly veiled derision. In the case of crime, this is not fair, given that Baltimore police is at its root a State agency.
"That’s a real tough question, because I’m not sure what the mayor’s plan is to fight violent crime in Baltimore City; I don't know that there is a plan." (Hogan Nov 2017)
No highway Hogan doesn't like
The biggest populist ruse, though, is transportation. As I have pointed out in many articles in this space, building additional beltway and Interstate lanes may be popular, it is a deeply flawed approach to CO2 reduction, to safety, to smart growth and even to mobility itself. Federal transportation bills ever since President George Bush senior require a balance between roads and transit and require consideration of land use. Hogans transportation plans have no balance whatsoever. If he points to transit expenditures, he points to measures such as the fleet replacement of subway cars or the overhaul of tracks and trains at light rail which had been in the budget before he came into office and which he couldn't avoid. A bill that would require the State to score its transportation projects for merit was fought tooth and nail by the Governor. In the end and after a veto and re-write of the bill, though, the State implemented a fairly decent system of metrics to measure projects, none of them stopping the incessant highway widenings, though.

The Governor likes to point to the Washington area Purple Line as proof, that he likes transit, but at the same time he slashed the State's share to a minimum and let private companies take over, a strategy that exploded the full cost of the project from $2.6 billion to $5.6 billion even after the initial construction cost was value engineered with the kind of measures that could also have been applied to the Red Line. The difference is that those large amounts will become due long after he will have left office (Private partners will charge the State for 35 years).
Purple Line: Moving forward by mortgaging the future

Both, the State's failure to fund Baltimore in a big meaningful way and to develop a future proof forward looking transportation policy is ultimately not just a failure on a constituency which admittedly generally didn't vote for this governor but a failure on the the State in general. While a majority seems to be happy with the current proceedings of threading water and not making any waves, Maryland cannot succeed in the long run without its biggest and most important center thriving and without a response to mobility and access which has a repertoire beyond 1950s road construction. In that, the SUN editorial is just as shortsighted as the candidate's agenda.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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