Hogan's message mattered
Originally published in the Baltimore Sun
The old adage claims "money is the mother's milk of politics," but it's wrong. Defining the message is the key, and the money comes later. Candidates and organizations that are able to correctly set the stage with a resonating message get donations, grassroots support, likes on Facebook, momentum, media attention and results when the curtain lifts on Election Day.
Governor-elect Larry Hogan did that. Thanks to early and robust staff support, he is credited with packaging economic statistics culled from official government sources that were largely accurate, timely and relevant. They quantified the O'Malley-Brown tax, fee and toll increases, demonstrated the number of taxpayers and small businesses leaving the state and shined a much-needed light through a Maryland lens of the No. 1 issue across the nation — the economy and jobs. The research pointed to one simple conclusion: Maryland's economy is lagging, according to key, objective indicators. It became Mr. Hogan's core message, and it was delivered repeatedly and with skill.
Though there were issues with Mr. Hogan's statistics, Lt. Gov. Brown could not directly refute much of his opponent's economic analysis in televised debates. Months before that, and leading up to the election, Mr. Hogan was invited numerous times on WBAL's "C4" show, in part because the host appeared to appreciate a dialogue based on real facts about Maryland's economy as opposed to political spin. It is not something campaigns are noted for doing, and it made news accordingly. The organization that Mr. Hogan created prior to his formal campaign operation, Change Maryland, was developing a reputation as a think tank and receiving national and statewide media attention. This free media is essential to building name recognition and political momentum in the early stages of a campaign. Nothing impeded it and the velocity produced one of the most stunning electoral upsets in the country.
It was not until the critical month of October that this sterling reputation for providing facts was even slightly tarnished, when a Baltimore Sun analysis found candidate Hogan released an "error-riddled budget savings plan." But the mistake appeared an honest one, and Mr. Hogan has been given credit for admitting it when pressed. The Hogan campaign had been attempting to demonstrate potential cost savings by adding together government audits that routinely examine state departments and agencies for waste, fraud and abuse. There were math errors, including a misplaced decimal point that inflated savings by over $100 million. It was noted in media outlets statewide. It was a careless error, and there were others.
Candidates make errors, but elected officials cannot afford errors. Candidates are on the road, staff is planning events, writing press releases, posting to social media, complying with campaign finance requirements, courting volunteers, planting yard signs, negotiating over debates and planning media buys. Campaigns are already surrounded by mud in the trenches when yet more mud is being dumped on top of them by the opposition. That is especially true in Maryland when a Republican candidate is within striking distance and the favored tactic of race-baiting is used to shore up defenses. It happened to Ellen Sauerbrey in 1998 and to Larry Hogan in 2014.
Why is this important?
Election results demonstrated that for most, what made Maryland great is slipping away. We must do a better job to educate citizens, policy makers and opinion leaders about market-oriented alternatives. That means producing objective, credible, fact-based research reports consistently and beyond election cycles. Mr. Hogan needs air support from effective, modernized advocates for free enterprise in Maryland. It is the only way to build the political support needed to grow our state's private sector job base before federal government spending, which has propped up our economy for decades, inevitably declines.
Change Maryland morphed into a campaign. But a campaign is not a think tank, and neither is a governor's administration. As we go forward post-election we must not lose sight of the issues that matter and why voters are being rewarded with accountability, checks and balances and policies that will start to undo the economic damage of eight years of the O'Malley/Brown administration. We live in an age when new things are more exciting, but change is a marathon, not a sprint.
Christopher B. Summers is president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan public policy research and education organization that focuses on state policy issues. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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