National political pundits have described Maryland’s gubernatorial election, in which Republican Larry Hogan defeated Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, as a “nuclear explosion.” Conventional political wisdom indicated a GOP spark was not possible in blue-state Maryland, much less an explosion. What set it off?
Before launching a formal campaign bid, Hogan set up what amounted to an exploratory committee. Instead of following the typical campaign script of announcing a possible run and then gauging the reaction among donors, the media and potential supporters, Hogan launched Change Maryland two years ago, attracting over 125,000 social media followers.
This set up a media platform enabling the future candidate to get out some sobering facts about Maryland’s economy. The problem in Maryland for any Republican eying statewide office is that elected officials like Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose term began in 2007 with Lt. Gov. Brown, controlled mainstream media and the resulting narrative portraying the state as a beacon of prosperity. Anyone who spent time in Maryland knew better.
In western Maryland, people talk about moving to Pennsylvania where one can find work on the Fracking Jobs website. Or take the Washington suburbs, where businesses such as defense contractor Northrop Grumman opt to set up new headquarters in Virginia, not Maryland. Retirees go to Delaware, where there is no sales tax, or to Florida, where there is no income tax. But this was only anecdotal evidence which amounted to partisan whining as far as the media were concerned, and was no match for the barrage of “official” information put out by the O’Malley administration and spoon-fed to the press.
Here is where objective data came in that told the complete story and trumped O’Malley-Brown political spin. The IRS compiles statistics on tax filers’ addresses, which the agency’s Statistics of Income Division uses to show who is coming and going to every state and county in the nation. Maryland’s numbers were pathetic, yet they were being ignored. While more than mere numbers to residents who were losing friends and relatives to other states, the issue of tax flight was not quantified.
Change Maryland researched and reported on the data, put it in a user-friendly format and made it widely available. The bottom line was stunning. Maryland lost $1.7 billion in taxable income to other states in just three years under O’Malley and Brown. Maryland joins high-tax states in the Northeast, Midwest and California among those with the largest exodus between 2007 and 2010. Maryland saw the seventh-highest negative net migration in the nation, hardly a beacon of prosperity. Hogan’s opponent could not refute the facts.
Brown was also caught flat-footed trying to explain the tax legacy of his administration, which many believe is the main reason why Marylanders are moving out. Change Maryland listed the administration’s 40 increases in taxes, fees and tolls buried in state government documents, put them in a table and gave it to the press. The report determined that the new taxes were costing Marylanders $3.1 billion a year — on top of the levies they already were paying. Hogan reached voters in a lousy economic recovery fed up paying the government more — at the toll booth, at the cash register, on their state tax returns, when they get a birth certificate and when they renew a driver’s license.
Ironically, O’Malley developed a reputation for adopting government performance metrics going back to his days as mayor of Baltimore. StateStat measured everything from Maryland employment growth to progress in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. After a promising start, it devolved into an unwieldy government self-testing procedure that did nothing to help his heir apparent on Election Day. Real data helped Larry Hogan turn Maryland red.
Jim Pettit, a GOP political strategist, worked for Change Maryland in 2012 and 2013. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.