Governor’s Attack Misses the Target

Marc Kilmer Jul 11, 2012

It seems MPPI Board Member Larry Hogan has riled up Governor O’Malley. Hogan’s group, Change Maryland, released a report noting that a large number of Maryland taxpayers have fled the state. It has received a lot of media coverage, and yesterday the governor’s press person tried to rebut the study. Some may accuse me of carrying water for Mr. Hogan (to be clear, I’ve only met him briefly at an MPPI dinner and he didn’t ask me to write this post), but it seems to me that if you judge Hogan vs. O’Malley on the facts, then Hogan wins at least the first round.

The governor’s blog post was written by Rick Abbruzzese, Director of Public Affairs. His first line says, “A recent report by Change Maryland, a GOP-led, partisan organization, erroneously makes an outdated claim that the number of millionaire households in Maryland has decreased.” That’s funny, since I’ve searched the Change Maryland report and couldn’t find any mention of millionaires.

The Change Maryland report lays out its findings in its first line: “Maryland accounted for the largest taxpayer migration exodus of any state in the region between 2007 and 2010, with a net migration resulting in nearly 31,000 residents having left the state.” It’s talking about a migration of all taxpayers, not millionaires. One wonders if Mr. Abbruzzese didn’t read the report or is simply erecting a straw man to make his arguments look better.

In fact, the only taxpayer data Mr. Abbruzzese presents to rebut the Change Maryland report is a factoid about how the number of millionaire households increased in Maryland during O’Malley’s term. Nowhere in the Change Maryland report did I see anything where it was claimed millionaire households declined. And nowhere in the governor’s blog post did I see any information to rebut the claim by Change Maryland that “Maryland accounted for the largest taxpayer migration exodus of any state in the region between 2007 and 2010.”

What I did see, however, was a lot of name calling and partisan talking points. The first “fact” by Mr. Abbruzzese has nothing to do with the data – it’s an ad hominem attack on Larry Hogan. As Margaret Thatcher said, “if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” Given the lack of facts to rebut the Change Maryland study, this quote seems quite appropriate.

This sort of personal, partisan attack in a policy debate is something I deplore. Policy arguments should be about the policy, not about the motives of those who support the policy. Maybe Larry Hogan is the most partisan person in the world (I really don’t know), but even if he is, that doesn’t negate the policy argument his organization is making.

What Mr. Abbruzzese is trying to do is imply that because Change Maryland is led by a Republican, everything it says about the Democratic governor must be a lie. This is the mindset of hyper-partisans who think that anyone who is not in their political party is inherently dishonest or of low character. I’ve heard plenty of Republicans make similar comments, so don’t think I’m just picking on Democrats.

Yes, we all have partisan biases. It’s good to recognize that. However, it’s destructive to infer or imply that anyone who is not on your partisan “team” is a liar. A person from a different political party is usually someone who simply has different political values; their political party membership says nothing about their character. It’s common to demonize those with whom you disagree, but it’s an ignorant way of debating. The fact that the governor’s office resorted to this type of debasing argument right at the beginning of its blog post supposedly about “the facts” is, frankly, shameful.

There is a legitimate policy debate to be had about the facts presented in the Change Maryland report. But the governor’s blog post engaging this report didn’t address the argument made by Change Maryland and took the low road by personally attacking the person who runs the group. This debate may go on, but Hogan and Change Maryland won the first round by publishing a report with clearly researched facts that did not descend to petty partisan bickering.