Josh Kurtz: Hogan’s Hero

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By: Josh Kurtz 

In 1966, Larry Hogan was a 10-year-old kid who loved to ride his bike at night around his Landover Knolls neighborhood in Prince George’s County. His father, Lawrence Hogan Sr., was a former FBI agent and PR professional who was locally famous for exposing corruption in Prince George’s County government.

Hogan’s average suburban upbringing would change forever that year when his father decided to challenge incumbent Rep. Hervey Machen (D). Though Machen had only been elected to Congress two years earlier, he was something of a political institution, having previously spent eight years in the legislature. He had worked in county and local government dating back to the 1940’s.

The district, which took in Prince George’s and Charles counties, had four times as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

“Everybody thought he was nuts,” the younger Hogan recalled in a recent interview. “Kind of like when I decided to run for governor.”

But in that race – and in the elder Hogan’s entire political career – his son sees parallels and valuable lessons that he’s used throughout his professional and political life up to now, as he charts his own underdog campaign for governor, 48 years later.

Young Larry Hogan and Father

(Photo courtesy of Hogan campaign)

Lesson No. 1: Although a loyal Republican, Larry Hogan Sr. depended on Democratic and independent votes to succeed, and his son will need a healthy dose of both if he is to upset Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) this fall.

Larry Hogan Jr. plunged himself into his father’s first race. If there were envelopes to stuff, he’d stuff them. If there were events to attend with his dad – he’d go. He’d even go, sometimes, as a young surrogate, if his dad couldn’t make it.

“It was fun, I liked meeting people,” the younger Hogan remembered. “I didn’t really at the time understand what was involved. As a 10-year-old kid, it’s pretty fun. It’s not so fun for the candidate.”

Maybe, he conceded, there was also a little bit of confusion: “I actually thought I was going to be the congressman.”

But it wasn’t to be, for the Hogans, in 1966. Despite a national GOP wave and the fact that Spiro Agnew became just the state’s fourth Republican governor in the 20th century, Hogan Sr. fell short, taking 46 percent to Machen’s 54 percent.

But Hogan kept right on campaigning. In fact, he announced on election night 1966 that he would be a candidate again in 1968.

This time, things were a little different. Hogan no longer had to introduce himself to the voters. He had also learned a little bit about campaign stagecraft, appearing often at events alongside an antique fire truck with a banner that read, “Stop the Fires of Inflation.”

For the candidate’s son, the campaign looked a little different, too.

“Maybe I became the senior envelope stuffer and not the junior,” he joked.

Around the same time, Hogan Jr. was also delivering The Washington Daily News and The Evening Star, and publishing a modest neighborhood newsletter, which he tried to sell for 10 cents. But he mostly enjoyed spending time on the campaign trail with his father.

“If I was home playing with my friends, I would never have seen him,” he says.

On election night 1968, even with Agnew on the national ticket as Richard Nixon’s running mate, Republicans narrowly lost Maryland. But Larry Hogan Sr. stunned the political world by upsetting Machen, 53 percent to 47 percent.

So while the elder Hogan settled into his new life on Capitol Hill, where his GOP colleagues included Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Jack Kemp, his son settled into his new life at DeMatha High School, with a greater understanding than before of his father’s political world. He remembers once being forced to put on a tuxedo and stand in for his father at a local Realtors’ banquet: “I was furious with him.”

Larry Hogan Jr. also remembers his father making it clear from the outset that constituent service would be a top priority, and he believes that helps explain how he was re-elected so easily in 1970 and 1972. In 1974, with polls showing him running strong against Gov. Marvin Mandel (D), he decided to seek the GOP nomination for governor.

By that time, his son could only help on a part-time basis: Hogan’s parents had divorced in 1972, and he moved with his mother to Florida, where he was continuing high school.

Hogan Sr. seemed to be cruising to the Republican gubernatorial nomination against Louise Gore, Maryland’s GOP national committeewoman. But then, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon. Hogan was the only Republican on the panel to vote for all three articles of impeachment.

“The thing that's so appalling to me is that the president, when this whole idea was suggested to him, didn't, in righteous indignation, rise up and say, ‘Get out of here, you’re in the office of the President of the United States,’” Hogan said at the time. “‘How can you talk about blackmail and bribery and keeping witnesses silent? This is the presidency of the United States.’ But my president didn't do that. He sat there and he worked and worked to try to cover this thing up so it wouldn't come to light.”

Larry Hogan Jr. says he finds the footage of the Judiciary Committee debates on impeachment “amazing,” and is impressed by his father’s integrity and political courage.

“He knew he was ending his political career with that speech,” the younger Hogan says.

That’s probably true: With Republican primary voters furious that Hogan had abandoned their president, Gore cruised to victory, only to be trounced by Mandel – who Larry Hogan Jr. believes talked her into running.

Larry Hogan Sr.’s political career seemed to be over. But his son’s was just beginning. While attending Florida State University, in the state capital of Tallahassee, where he majored in government and political science, he worked for the minority leader in the Florida House. Upon graduation, he got a job on Capitol Hill with Congressman John Rousselot (R-Calif.).

But when 1978 rolled around, Lawrence Hogan Sr. decided to try for a political comeback, challenging Prince George’s County Executive Win Kelly (D). And his son, then 22, was right there beside him. There was a tax revolt taking place in Prince George’s – 1978 was the year county voters passed TRIM, the property tax cap that exists to this day – and Hogan rode it to victory, taking a stunning 60 percent of the vote.

Larry Hogan Jr. went to work for his dad in Upper Marlboro as an intergovernmental liaison. “I was the lowest-paid guy in county government,” he recalled, saying his dad explained that that was the only way to justify putting his son on the public payroll.

The county was then controlled by the fabled O’Malley Democratic machine, whose top foot soldiers included Steny Hoyer and Mike Miller. Parris Glendening – like the younger Hogan, a graduate of Florida State – was then the chairman of the Prince George’s County Council.

Hogan’s dad “was the only Republican in a sea of [Democratic] elected officials,” his son recalled. Hogan Sr., he added with pride, “was their worst nightmare,” keeping taxes low, and attempting to bring political reform to Upper Marlboro.

While working for his father, Larry Hogan Jr. became involved with Republican youth groups, volunteering for Ronald Reagan in 1980. One of the people he met in that endeavor was a law student named Bob Ehrlich.

In 1982, Larry Hogan Sr. decided to challenge first-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D), his former colleague on the House Judiciary Committee – against his son’s advice to seek a second term as county executive. He was clobbered – and Glendening was elected to succeed him.

“It was a really bad idea,” the younger Hogan asserted. “He said, ‘I really should have listened to you.’ He almost never says that.”

Parenthetically, Ehrlich was a paid staffer on that campaign.

With his father out of politics for good, Larry Hogan Jr. went into the real estate business. His father went on to practice law, teach and write books, including novels and collections of poetry. One of his books, “Legal Aspects of the Fire Service,” is a staple at training academies throughout the country.

But in 1992, the younger Hogan got the political itch and decided to challenge Hoyer, then the No. 4 House Democrat who was holding a facsimile of his dad’s old congressional seat. He lost by almost 10 points – but it was the toughest race of Hoyer’s long congressional career, and his victory wasn’t assured until a day after the election, when he came from behind thanks to a massive late release of results from Prince George’s County.

“It was the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” Hogan says today.

Ehrlich, then in his second term as a state legislator, helped Hogan on his congressional campaign. And Hogan was pleased to return the favor in 1994, when Ehrlich was elected to Congress.

“Bob had better timing, that’s for sure,” Hogan said, with no trace of regret.

Eight years later, Hogan helped Ehrlich become the state’s first Republican governor since Agnew, then joined his administration as appointments secretary. After Ehrlich lost to Martin O’Malley, Hogan flirted with the idea of running for governor in 2010 but deferred when Ehrlich decided to try again. Since then, Hogan has created the anti-O’Malley group Change Maryland, which boasts more than 50,000 Democratic and independent followers, and is the base for Hogan’s political operation as he runs for governor this year.

Lawrence Hogan Sr. was not able to escape politics completely. After moving to Frederick County, his wife, Ilona Hogan, was elected to the Board of County Commissioners. His son, Patrick Hogan – Larry Hogan Jr.’s half-brother – is finishing his second term in the House of Delegates.

Hogan says his father, who is now 86 and broke his shoulder last month, continues to be “a political animal” and frequently offers advice – even if it isn’t always practical.

“He calls me sometimes with these boring stories, says ‘this happened in ’68 and this happened in ’70 and you should try these things,’” Hogan laughs. “I said, ‘Dad, things have changed a little since then.’”

But Hogan said four basic lessons his dad taught him earlier in his career have stayed with him: to work hard and operate with integrity, to experience government and politics at different levels, and to not make politics a full-time career. As he considers his own career – and looks back over his father’s – Larry Hogan believes he took all that advice to heart.

“I’m happy to talk about my dad,” he said, “because I’m real proud of him.”

 Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at 

 

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.