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Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons
After a delay due to the pandemic, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan released his political memoir, “Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America,” in late July.
Only the second Republican governor reelected in Maryland’s history, Hogan talks about how he was able to “pull off the biggest upset in America” by winning the gubernatorial race in 2014 and his “baptism of fire”: the Baltimore protests in 2015. The governor stresses bipartisanship as an antidote to political divisiveness, although he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about his political colleagues. Hogan talks about President Donald Trump’s effect on the Republican Party and his handling of the pandemic. And he also gets personal, sharing stories about his parents’ divorce, his courtship with his now-wife Yumi and his battle with stage-three cancer.
We’ll talk with two journalists who have followed Hogan’s career and Maryland politics about their takeaways from the memoir — and if it foreshadows a 2024 presidential bid.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
SASHA-ANN SIMONSI'm Sasha-Ann Simons, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. After pushing back its publication during the pandemic, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan released his new political memoir late last month. In "Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic and the Toxic Politics That Divide America," the Republic governor talks about his underdog campaign in 2014, the Baltimore riots following the death of Freddie Gray, and his battle with stage 3 cancer. And he talks about current events like what Donald Trump means for the Republican Party and being courted to run against the president in 2020.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSBut like all memoirs, there are also some things that he left out. Joining me to discuss Governor Hogan's new political memoir is Pamela Wood. She covers Maryland politics for the Baltimore Sun. Hi, Pamela.
PAMELA WOODHi. Thank you so much for having me.
SIMONSAnd Josh Kurtz is the cofounder and editor of Maryland Matters. Welcome to the program, Josh.
JOSH KURTZThank you, Sasha.
SIMONSNow, we invited Governor Larry Hogan to join us for this conversation, but he did decline the invitation. I'm going to start with you, Pamela. And tell us, why do you think that Governor Hogan wrote this book at this time in his career? Why now?
WOODSure. Well, I'll tell you what he says, which is, he says it's not meant to be a memoir to launch him into national acclaim, and as a precursor to a 2024 campaign. He says that's not the case. He says he's been asked to write a book for years, from his win in 2014, from the rioting and unrest, from the time he survived cancer. He says he's been, you know, hounded to write a book, and he finally did it. And he claims there's not any 2024 aspirations here, but, you know, I leave it to others who may perhaps see that a little differently.
SIMONSMany people have said that this book is a precursor to a potential presidential run in 2024. Any truth to that, do you think?
WOODI mean, certainly, it does tick all the boxes. You've seen this from every contender. They come out with a book that is their origin story as a leader to introduce themselves to the world. This falls very much in line with other political memoirs, political autobiographies that we've seen from, you know, almost every national figure in the last couple decades, really. It does fit the formula.
SIMONSJosh, you wrote a commentary piece about the book. You called it "Hogan's PN to Hogan." Explain what you meant by that and what you thought about the book, overall.
KURTZWell, if you cover the politics business, you read a lot of political biographies. And they're all, you know, testaments to their own abilities and their heroism and stuff like that. But this one, I think, was really notable, because it really just sort of cast -- the governor cast himself as kind of a singular figure in Maryland politics, to the exclusion of mentioning almost nobody else. So, you know, every story, every anecdote kind of had him as the hero.
SIMONSNow, the first part of the book, Pamela, it describes Hogan's upbringing, his parents' divorce and his dad's political career, which many people actually don't know that his father was a congressman and was indeed the first Republican congressman to call for President Nixon to be impeached. What kind of bearing did Hogan's childhood and his father's political career have on his own?
WOODRight. Governor Hogan does something interesting here, and he's establishing chapters of his childhood. He grew up in politics. He volunteered on his father's congressional campaigns and loved it. He talked with his father in depth about the Watergate scandal. He worked for his father. When his father left Congress and became Prince George's County executive, the governor worked for his dad's administration. But he takes great pains to say that he had a regular upbringing.
WOODHe describes his neighborhood in Prince George's County as modest. He kind of -- he went to a Catholic School at DeMatha, which is a well-regarded high school in Maryland. And he talks about it as being, well, like not as good as Gonzaga or other schools. So, he really tries to burnish this, like, middle class, regular family upbringing. Although he was, you know, a kid visiting his father in Capitol Hill regularly, and knew a lot about politics. So, he tries to kind of diminish that aspect of his upbringing to burnish his reputation as a regular guy who just happened to become governor all these years later.
SIMONSJosh, one of the things that Hogan repeatedly mentions is the importance of bipartisanship, especially as a red governor in a largely blue state. Tell us how he talks about being bipartisan and working with Democrats in the book. Does he give examples?
KURTZWell, one of the striking things about the book is that he doesn't give that many examples. And, frankly, I don't think there are that many examples. I think by the standards of modern politics today, and particularly if you look at what happens on Capitol Hill, he's a lot less hostile to the Democrats, and vice versa. And, you know, he's more moderate than sort of your average national Republican these days.
KURTZBut there aren't a lot of examples of him and legislative Democrats -- and the Democrats have supermajorities in Annapolis -- there aren't very many examples of them sitting together in a room, rolling up their sleeves, hammering out compromises. So, he's kind of giving lip service to the concept of bipartisanship, but he doesn't really show any examples in the book, and there really haven't been so far in his time in office.
SIMONSWe got this Tweet from Melissa. She says: Please don't gloss over his record. He needs to be accountable for his vetoes on education and gun safety. His deals with pals need to be brought into the light. His racism and contempt of Baltimore needs to be talked about. Pamela, does that square at all with what you've been hearing as you're reporting on this memoir?
WOODWell, certainly this sort of criticism we hear regularly of the governor over the years. I mean, I can speak about Baltimore, specifically. One of the decisions he made in his first year in office in 2015 was to pull the plug on a project called the Redline. It was an east/west light rail line that would've gone across Baltimore and out to Woodlawn. And it was seen as helpful to the economy, how people get to jobs.
WOODListeners in Washington may not realize Baltimore's transit system is inadequate for the city. It is. Governor Hogan pulled the plug on it, lost almost a billion dollars of federal funding. And a lot of people in Baltimore saw that as just, you know, being very anti-Baltimore in that. As well, he discusses in the chapters following the death of Freddie Gray, how he talked to people in the community. And they wanted to talk about issues, structural racism and disinvestment. And he says, well, we'll get to that and work on it. But, frankly, he doesn't have much to show for that.
SIMONSAnd you and your colleagues took a really hard look at those chapters because he actually takes a whole section of his book, five whole chapters, to talk about the protests that followed the death of Freddie Gray. What struck you, though, about how he described those events?
WOODWell, this period of time has been an ongoing part of Hogan's personal narrative. He tells a shorter version of this story a lot and, again, as Josh alluded to, he is the one who comes in. He's the singular leader. He is the one who makes all the difference. He brings in the National Guard. He restores peace. He claims there's a lack of leadership from the mayor, in particular, and the police commissioner in Baltimore, that he's the one who righted the ship after a night of really intense violence and, you know, arsonists and looting that happened. That he's the one who restored it all.
WOODBut he said a few things in there that were not backed up by fact. Of course, he's going to think he's great. For example, he said that Freddie Gray, who had been fatally injured in police custody was a Crips gang member, which we have no evidence of. And I asked his people for proof of that, and they gave none. He also alleged that rival gangs worked together to loot pharmacies. You get this one, I'll get this one, but there's no evidence, as well.
SIMONS(overlapping) And his exact sentence, there was -- you know, Freddie Gray was a Crips gang-connected, street-level drug dealer with a long criminal rap sheet. No evidence, as you mentioned, that he was a member of that gang, but the governor chose to describe him in that way. I'm saying that the governor's implying that Gray deserved to die, but why do you think he would say something like that when there's no evidence?
WOODYou know, I'm honestly not sure. I mean, it is true that Mr. Gray did have some charges on his record, some kind of low-level, typical possession. You know, that's not in question, but low level stuff, not some big Crips person. The governor also has a line where he says, well, not like any of that is reason, you know, for anybody to be fatally injured by police. But that also begs the question, well, is there a standard by which it's okay? I mean, I really think that everybody would agree nobody should ever be injured in police custody. It's really a kind of baffling section of the book.
SIMONSIf you're just tuning in, we're talking with Pamela Wood. She covers Maryland politics for the Baltimore Sun. Also with us is Josh Kurtz. He's the cofounder and editor of Maryland Matters. Kyle is on the line. He's been waiting. He's calling from Prince George's County. Hi, Kyle.
KYLEHey, everyone. I just appreciate everyone for having this conversation. Larry Hogan has been getting a lot of attention for his response to the COVID, and now with his book. But I think it's important for folks in the region and in the nation to know that when it comes to bipartisanship, you know, Larry Hogan doesn't support the Kirwan Plan, which will fully fund Maryland's schools. He's axed the transportation funds for the Baltimore rail line, and instead diverted those fundings to highway projects that are around his properties for his business.
KYLEAnd he also didn't want to settle with the HBCUs on a discriminatory funding that the state of Maryland has been administering over the course of a couple of decades. And so I just think it's important for folks, as we're having this conversation about Larry Hogan and his potentially becoming a president, that we remember that he is the most bipartisan Republican governor. And I just wanted to make those comments. Thank you.
SIMONSThank you, Kyle. Appreciate your call. Josh, does that square with what you've come across in your reporting? He's not the bipartisan governor he says he is, is what Kyle says.
KURTZWell, it's a fine line and Kyle airs many grievances that many Democrats and progressives have about Governor Hogan. But make no mistake. I mean, Governor Hogan is a Republican, and he doesn't shy away from that. You know, it's sort of the brand of Republicanism that's in question and, you know, his appeal to Democrats that kind of makes him extraordinary. There are many issues on which he and the Democrats diverge. Hogan tries to make a big deal of a few of them and tries to gloss over many of the others. But, you know, a lot of Democrats like him, but he is no Democrat and, you know, he's really an old-line, traditional Republican. And people, you know, kind of lose sight of that sometimes, given what's happening in D.C.
SIMONSYeah well, Josh, you know, he also has made no secret of his dislike of President Trump. He's put distance between himself and the president on a range of issues, criticizes him all the time, including Trump's handling of this pandemic. So, why do you think Hogan's been so public with his opposition to a fellow Republican?
KURTZWell, I think some of it is just the question of self-preservation. You cannot be a Trump ally and thrive, statewide, in Maryland. I mean, that's just a simple fact. But they do have some policy differences. Governor Hogan, until recently, was chairman of the National Governors Association. And that group really sort of clashed with the administration a lot on the handling of the pandemic.
KURTZCertainly, Hogan has some policy differences with the president on things like the environment, where Governor Hogan's record is a lot stronger. And just sort of temperamentally, you know, he doesn't like the kind of confrontational style that the president displays.
SIMONSWe've got a comment from IO in Washington, D.C. IO's actually on the line. Hi, IO.
IOHi. I would say that Hogan is just like his name, H-o-g and U-T-C, similar to the horrible idiots in office now, not to be trusted. I don't think he really should've won when he did against Brown. That was during that election. He paid a lot of people who got money to vote him in. He's a schemer and he might have some policies that work in Congress, but Baltimore is sure indicative of what he's not doing. There are so many people -- the income gap is ridiculous between the haves and the have nots. There's so much that needs to be done.
IOAnd the caller before who talked about him taking money from the inner city to build new roads, his vision for doing something -- doing away with Cherry Hill, which is a very prominent area in Baltimore, he is not to be trusted. Do not trust him. He ain't got no business running for no kind of office (unintelligible).
SIMONSOkay. Well, thank you for you call IO. Pamela, when it comes to Maryland politics and policy, what do you think was actually missing from the governor's memoir? Is there anything that you would've liked the governor to go into more detail about?
WOODWell, as my friend Josh indicated, there wasn't much about hardly anybody else in here. You know, there's members of Congress, there's 188 members...
SIMONSThere's a lot about Trump.
WOOD...yeah, of the General Assembly. But in terms of Maryland politics, other than, you know, bashing the former mayor of Baltimore and being broadly dismissive of Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, there's very little discussion about anybody else. And that is because, for all his talk of bipartisanship and working across the line, as Josh noted, there's not much evidence of it.
WOODHe talks in the book, actually, about how Democratic leaders are terrible and they'll never consider his ideas. And so he relishes being able to do things by executive order or by directing agencies to do things that don't require legislative approval. I mean, he was -- his governorship has overlapped with Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch, who were two longtime, hugely important figures in Maryland politics, really set the tone. And they barely get mentioned at all in here. And, actually, even worse, almost no Republicans. No local Republicans hardly are in this book anywhere. So, if you want to get a full picture of Maryland politics in this time, it's not there.
SIMONSIt's not this memoir. Josh, what about you? What are your thoughts? Anything else that you would've like the governor to put in the book?
KURTZWell, I agree with everything Pam said, but additionally, there are no real policy discussions in the book. If you're thinking about angling yourself for national office, you know, what do you think about education? What do you think about economic development? What do you think about the environment? There's sort of no vision in the book. And, you know, in a way there hasn't been that much vision during his time in office, too. And so that kind of comes clear.
KURTZAnd he certainly -- you know, there have been a half dozen important policy battles over the last few years over education or the minimum wage or clean energy policies. And he doesn't mention any of those in the book, either.
SIMONSWe're going to pivot to talking about some of the personal things in this book in just a moment. But I'm wondering, Pamela, you know, because the release date was pushed back, of this memoir. Hogan was able to squeeze in a section about the coronavirus pandemic. He got national attention early, as we mentioned, for his handling of this pandemic, especially in contrast to that lack of federal leadership. How does he actually sum it up, these months of crisis, in the book?
WOODIn keeping with the rest of the book, he's the hero, here. Of course, it's his book. He talks about in February, he was leading a governor's event in Washington and he squeezed in a briefing with Dr. Redfield, Dr. Fauci and others about the coronavirus, because it was, you know, here and coming. And he says that turned him onto the idea of, like, we really need to prepare for this.
WOODAnd he also talks at length about the purchase of 500,000 coronavirus tests from a South Korean company, leveraging his relationships with officials in South Korea. His wife, Yumi Hogan, was born in South Korea. Of course, that also leaves out that we've had a lot of questions about the use of these tests. It took weeks for them to be deployed. We don't know how many have been used. They had to buy more. So, even that part that he added in, you know, we still have unresolved questions about.
SIMONSLet's hear from Marco. He's calling from Laurel. Hi, Marco.
MARCOHello. Good afternoon, everybody. Well, Hogan, I think, is what I call a well-regulated Republican. When he goes too far off, they veto him. Bipartisanship, I don't think there's any evidence of it. And he equivocates, and the thing that really -- you know, I think he did handle the virus relatively well for a Republican. But he was asked recently, you know, what does he think about the 2020 election. He goes, we have two bad choices. Now, for him to say that in the situation that we're in makes me lose any respect that I might've had for him. So, I hope he doesn't make it anywhere for national office. Thanks.
SIMONSThank you, Marco, for calling in. Let's transition to talking about some of his more personal stories in the memoir, like the governor's battle with stage 3 cancer in 2015. He describes an intense chemotherapy treatment that went on for like five months. Pam, what did you make of those chapters?
WOODThose chapters were, to me, the most compelling parts of the book. And, you know, we saw him go through this, you know, publically sharing his diagnosis. We saw, you know, from the outside, the physical affects, losing the hair, you know, his coloring. You could see it was hard on him. And he did talk about it at the time a bit, but we've learned much more in this book about just the physical toll it took on him. Which I didn't realize just how bad it really was to go through those treatments and to try and keep up being governor.
WOODI mean, one or the other, being a cancer patient or being governor is very taxing. To do both at the same time was, I think, a really humanizing aspect of it. You know, he was very honest, it seemed, about just how difficult it was.
SIMONSJosh, as Pam mentioned, he was in office during his cancer treatments. So, were political observers aware of just how intense his regimen was at the time?
KURTZAs Pam said, I don't think any of them was aware quite how intense things were and how physically debilitating this was and how it took an emotional toll on him, too. And, as Pam said, those are compelling parts of the book. He has used the cancer, you know, very adroitly in terms of advancing his own political narrative. So, that part isn't new, but certainly the level of detail is new in the book.
SIMONSYou've covered this stuff for two dozen years, Josh, and you've been following the governor for a very long time. How well do you think "Still Standing" captures his voice?
KURTZI think it does a pretty good job of capturing his voice, actually. You know, I mean, he can be self-effacing. He can be funny. He can be kind of pointed and nasty sometimes. And that all comes through. And I think if you're kind of dropping in from outside Maryland and you want to know a little bit about this guy, it's obviously, you know, his version of the story, but you do get to kind of get a sense of the guy a little bit.
SIMONSA few times in the book, Governor Hogan comes off as critical of the media. And we, here at WAMU, certainly have felt that chill. We've yet to actually be granted an interview with the governor, despite repeated invitations. What do you think about his relationship with the media, Pam? What do you make of it?
WOODWell, I mean, as with all governors, it goes up and down. I know they run hot and cold with me. I'm sure with others, as well. I thought it was interesting, one of his specific complaints was that in the '24 (sic) election against Anthony Brown, now Congressman, he complains in there that the media organizations weren't doing polling. And his internal polling was showing, you know, he was catching up or maybe he was coming ahead. And, you know, this goes to the idea that perhaps nobody thought he'd win in 2014.
WOODNow, at the Baltimore Sun, we did see that as a possibility, but he complains about us and others for not polling. But it's not because we didn't care about the race. It's because polling is expensive and we're very judicious about when we choose to poll. We don't poll every week. Likewise, he complained about no exit polling in the 2014 election, which is not something that Maryland news organizations do at all. We just don't have the ability or the budget to do that.
WOODSo, perhaps a little misunderstanding about how we operate.
SIMONSRight, right. And, Josh, anything to add to that? What do you make of his relationship with the media?
KURTZWell, he is very selective about who he talks to, for sure. I mean, Sasha, you pointed out, you know, he has no interviews with WAMU.
SIMONSYeah, we've tried.
KURTZThe same is true at WYPR, the public radio station in Baltimore. He's never done an "Ask the Governor" interview on WTOP in D.C., which has been a staple for years. He generally tends to seek out, you know, friendly local media or, you know, national media that will elevate his profile.
SIMONSJosh Kurtz is the cofounder and editor of Maryland Matters. Josh, thanks so much for being here.
KURTZYeah, thank you.
SIMONSAnd Pamela Wood, she covers Maryland politics for the Baltimore Sun. Always a pleasure, Pamela.
WOODOh, yeah. Thank you so much.
SIMONSThis segment on Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's new memoir was produced by Cydney Grannan. And our conversation about D.C. statehood was produced by Lauren Markoe. Now, there'll be a lot more discussion of statehood on this station. WAMU's "What's With Washington" podcast will be producing a special season focused just on statehood this fall. So, stay tuned for that.
SIMONSNow, coming up tomorrow on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, it's been more than five months since the pandemic first trickled into the Washington region, and life as we know it has dramatically transformed. So, how do we move forward in such an uncertain future? We're still learning new things about this virus, and we've got Doctors Leana Wen and Travis Gayles joining us to answer all of your questions. That all starts tomorrow, at noon, on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. Thanks for listening. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, sitting in this week for Kojo Nnamdi.
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