Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is determined to bridge the political divide. As one of only two Republican governors to be re-elected for a second term in Maryland's 242-year history, Governor Hogan is creating change and “making the most out of every day.”
On this episode of the Walker Webcast, Willy and Governor Hogan discuss the state of politics in America, the future of the Republican Party, leadership during Covid-19, the importance of integrity, and his battle with stage 3 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Willy begins the conversation by asking if Governor Hogan ever considered following the same path as his father, Congressman Larry Hogan, Sr. The governor shares that he wanted to be a basketball coach when he was younger and is a late bloomer in politics. He cites his father's most important lessons on integrity and public service. Hogan Sr. was the first Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee to call for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. He showed independence as a political leader, putting the country above the party, and insisted on a fair and transparent process. Governor Hogan embodies his father’s traits in his brand of politics and is recognized nationally as a strong, independent leader who consistently delivers real results and achieves common-sense, bipartisan solutions.
Governor Hogan recalls the funny story of how he "rebelled" as a young adult by supporting Ronald Reagan while his father was in favor of Gerald Ford. He pulls inspiration from the Reagan presidency, which has guided him throughout his political career.
Governor Hogan shares, "Most people in America want to elect leaders, regardless of their party affiliation that are willing to work together, to focus on solving problems. And unfortunately, that's not what's happening in Washington, where we're just at the state Capitol here in Annapolis, we're 30 miles down the road from the nation's capital, and we couldn't be more different, working together and getting things done on any number of issues."
Willy and Governor Hogan recall his first campaign in 2014. As a small businessman who had never held elective office, he ran with a small budget to address massive problems such as job shortages, tax inflation, and the opioid crisis. "Nobody was even paying attention to our race as if we had no chance at all. But as I traveled around the state, I saw the struggling middle-class families were suffering, and small businesses were being hurt. We just went out with a grassroots campaign. I started a group called Change Maryland. I went all across the state just talking to people. We had very little funding. We weren't expected to win. It was a big shocker because I pulled off the biggest surprise upset in America in 2014."
Upon his election, Governor Larry Hogan shares his experience of finding out a life-threatening cancer diagnosis. "I was just on the way from the doctor to the governor's mansion. Remembering Tim McGraw's great song called ‘Live Like You're Dying,’ I decided to make the most out of every day."
As the President of the National Governors Association all through COVID, Hogan had no hesitation in saying what he thought and speaking out, even if it was unpopular, particularly pointing out issues with former President Donald Trump. His term ends in January of 2023, and Willy asks if Governor Hogan hasn't ruled out running for President. They conclude by thanking the leaders who have inspired them.
[00:39] Governor Larry Hogan is welcomed to the show
[02:25] Governor Hogan shares his past ambitions to be an FBI agent, basketball coach, or lawyer
[03:55] Governor Hogan runs through the achievements of his late father and his significant influence on his career choices and principles
[07:31] Governor Hogan’s and his father’s contradicting political stances
[08:58] Ronald Reagan’s best traits that Governor Hogan admired and applied to his leadership
[12:09] The current divisiveness of the Congress and U.S. citizens
[14:30] The issues in Maryland that drove Governor Hogan’s 2014 campaign
[18:55] Freddie Gray's death and crisis management
[26:33 Governor Hogan’s cancer diagnosis
[30:00] Sources of inspiration and being vulnerable in the public eye
[36:25] Governor Hogan’s reelection and his penchant for “speaking up” brought him to success
[47:31] Governor Hogan’s plans after January 2023
[47:48] The need for honest messaging amid COVID and thoughts on Ukraine
[56:50] Successful politics is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division
Willy Walker: Good afternoon to those of you on the East Coast and good morning to those of you two points further west. And good afternoon, governor. Let me do a brief introduction to the governor and then I will get into our discussion.
Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. was sworn in as the 62nd governor of the State of Maryland on January 21, 2015. In 2018, he was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second four-year term, receiving the most votes of any Maryland gubernatorial candidate and becoming only the second Republican governor to be re-elected in the 242-year history of the state.
In his first inaugural address, Governor Hogan reminded citizens of Maryland’s history as a state of middle temperament and pledged to advance the best ideas, regardless of which side of the political aisle they come from. He is recognized nationally as a strong, independent leader who consistently delivers real results and achieves common sense, bipartisan solutions.
After being elected by his fellow governors, Governor Hogan recently completed a successful term as chairman of the National Governors Association, and he has consistently maintained one of the highest job approval ratings in the country. Prior to his stellar political career, Governor Hogan founded Hogan Companies in 1985, which engaged in brokerage, consulting, investment and development of land, commercial and residential real estate for 18 years. Governor Hogan went to Florida State University, where he had a Bachelor of Arts degree in government and political science.
So, first governor, it is a true honor to have you with us today. I want to thank you very much for taking the time out of your exceedingly busy and demanding schedule to share your thoughts and views. And most importantly, leadership lessons with our listeners today.
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, thank you very much, Willy. It's really wonderful to be with you, I've been looking forward to this and I thank you very much for the opportunity.
Willy Walker: So, Governor, you grew up in Landover Knowles in Prince George's County, just outside of Washington, D.C., as the son of a lawyer turned FBI agent turned politician. Did you ever consider becoming a lawyer or an FBI agent before politics?
Governor Larry Hogan: You know, I did for a little while when I was growing up, I thought it would be really cool to be an FBI agent. And while I was at Florida State, my plan was to go to law school and then I got distracted by other things after graduating college and got involved in politics and commercial real estate. But yeah, I had some thoughts about that, but I really wanted to be a basketball coach when I was younger, more so than an FBI agent or a lawyer.
Willy Walker: That's really interesting. I'm hopeful at the end of this, we're going to get you to say that you're going to run for president of the United States. But might we look at you being the next Johns Hopkins basketball coach after you step down as governor of the state of Maryland?
Governor Larry Hogan: I might want to start with like a boy’s club or, you know, some younger kids. I'm not sure I'm at the college level quite yet.
Willy Walker: So, governor, your father served three terms in Congress and gave up a safe seat to run for governor. But one piece of his background that I found so informative as it relates to you is that your father was the first Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee to call for the impeachment of President Nixon. And as I've heard you tell it; your father was insistent upon that process being fair and transparent. But once your father had realized that the president should be impeached, he was the first to step out there and take that stance. And I think that's so reflective or insightful as it relates to your character and independence as a political leader. You want to talk about that for a moment and when you watched your father do that?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, sure. Thanks for bringing that up. I learned so much about integrity in public service from my dad. I was in high school at the time when he was in Congress and serving on the House Judiciary Committee. And he was a loyal Republican who had supported Nixon and his campaigns and thought that he was doing a pretty good job as President. And he fought very hard when he thought the Democrats were being unfair and fought to make sure he could cross-examine witnesses. But as you pointed out, as a former FBI agent and a Georgetown trained lawyer, after seeing all the evidence he came to the conclusion that the president had committed impeachable offenses, and he was the first one on the House Judiciary Committee to say that he's the only Republican to vote for all three articles of impeachment. President Nixon in this memoir, says he made the decision to resign the Presidency after that speech he gave before the House Judiciary Committee. So, all these years later, it's still pertinent today. I lost my dad just a couple of years ago. I was so proud that he got to see me be elected governor, and when I eulogized him I said, that's the moment that he was most remembered for in history and I’m awful proud of him.
Willy Walker: So, governor, many people who would have lived that moment and seeing the pressure your father was under by stepping out there, to some degree, people could go either way and say, “I both praised that and think that's something to do”. And they could also say, “I'm going to shy away from that, and that's not something I ever want to put myself into”. What was it there that made you realize because it wasn't until later that you could kind of reflect upon that and say that was clearly the right thing to do? What was it, do you think in your upbringing or your father's parenting of you that gave you the courage to basically speak out the way you speak out today?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, I learned a lot from him, but I spent most of my entire life in the private sector and the real estate business, and this is the first elective office I've ever held. So, I would say, I’m a late bloomer in politics and really enjoyed the private sector. But I always admired my dad from the very beginning as a kid in high school at the time. I remember very clearly him going through that decision-making process that he knew at the time that he was going to get the wrath of many people in the party, the folks in the White House and fellow members of Congress, and many of his supporters and contributors who were really angry with him for quite some time. Decades later looking back, I think most people feel he showed tremendous courage and that’s the kind of leadership I think we're lacking in Congress today, for the most part. But at the time, it was pretty brutal. I mean, he ended his career. It's why he never became governor of Maryland himself and gave up his seat in Congress as a result of it. But he decided to do and was compelled to do what he thought was right, the right thing for the country, regardless of the personal consequences, and put the country above the party. And I think obviously I learned some lessons just watching him and admiring him.
Willy Walker: It's very clear how much you admired your father and looked up to him. But in 1976, when you came out of Florida State University, you were a big fan of Ronald Reagan's. And it's my understanding that your father was a big fan of Gerry Ford's and had a big hand in Gerald Ford becoming Vice President and then President of the United States. You were one of the youngest delegates to the 1976 Republican Convention in Kansas City. Was there a little tension between you and your father with him supporting Gerry Ford and you supporting Ronald Reagan?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, it's kind of a funny story. Kids often rebel against their parents, and maybe sometimes they get in a little bit of trouble. And my rebellion was supporting Ronald Reagan over Gerry Ford. And it's a funny story. I was actually an alternate delegate, I was still halfway through Florida State, I was a college kid. It was an exciting opportunity to go there with my dad and participate in that. I loved politics as a kid, and I got to march around and do a little bit of a demonstration on the floor of the House of the Convention. And I have a Reagan hat, a Reagan sign and t-shirt, and my dad saw this going on. Not that he had anything against Reagan, and I didn't have anything against Gerry Ford, who I knew as a kid who was friends with my dad and my dad was a Ford chairman, and he was like, “What in the heck are you doing?” But I was pretty excited. I was later chairman of Youth for Reagan and very involved in the ‘80 and ‘84 campaign and a delegate to both of those conventions. But yeah, my dad wasn't too happy about me going so far out there with Reagan in ‘76.
Willy Walker: What was it that you saw in Reagan? Because obviously in ‘76, you saw something at that time, Governor Reagan, future President Reagan that really attracted you. And I've heard you often speak about a couple core tenants that Ronald Reagan stood for, that have kind of guided you throughout your politics. What was it about Ronald Reagan that pulled you to him?
Governor Larry Hogan: Again, let me just touch on Gerry Ford, who I had tremendous admiration for. My dad served in the house with him, and he was minority leader. And of course, my dad had a role in helping him to get to be Vice President and President. He was a great man who I admired. But Ronald Reagan was a guy who really just energized an entire generation. He had such a positive, hopeful vision for America. And he had very simple core principles about smaller government, about a stronger defense, about freedom, about standing up to the Soviet Union. But it was really the way he spoke. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was inspirational. And I think the kind of leader that I was attracted to as a young man.
Willy Walker: And I'd say to a great degree, the type of leader that you have been.
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, I wouldn't make that comparison, Willy, but thank you.
Willy Walker: One of the things that I took from your second inaugural address was that hopeful message. And then also the sense that we'll take the best idea no matter where it comes from, because it's the best idea for the state of Maryland, not necessarily a Republican idea or a Democratic idea.
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, you know, Ronald Reagan used to say, “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit”. I'm full of Reagan quotes because I just thought he was an incredible President who transformed America and the world. I have tried to live up to that when I was first elected in Maryland, and this is the bluest state in America. I'm a Republican with a 70 percent pretty far left progressive legislature in both houses. But I said I didn't care which side of the aisle the ideas came from. I just wanted the good ideas, and I wanted to work on bipartisan common-sense solutions. And it’s something that as a kid, I saw Reagan and Tip O’Neill, you know, get things done. They didn’t agree on everything, and they were different parties, but there was a camaraderie there where they would go, have a beer together – there was a true friendship even when they competed and debated issues, they came together and got some things done for America. And I've tried to do that. I've tried my best to work across the aisle. And I think we've gotten a lot of things done by finding that middle ground where we can reach a compromise.
Willy Walker: Governor, is the state level on that bipartisanship just completely distinct from the national scene? The reason I ask that is because your tenure as governor reminds me a lot of George W. Bush in Texas. George W. Bush had a Democratic state legislature. He worked across the aisle to do many things that many didn't think were possible. Like you, he was the first governor of the state of Texas to be reelected for another four-year term. And yet he got to Washington on the premise of bipartisanship, but kind of ran into a wall of the Partisan gridlock that exists in Washington even back in 2000, much less than2022. Is there something that's unique at the state level that you can work through that at the national level, it's almost impossible to work through?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, look, I don't think it's easy even at the state level, and most people don't do it. But I think it's what most people in America want. They really do want to elect leaders, regardless of their party affiliation that are willing to work together, that are willing to focus on solving problems. And unfortunately, that's not what's happening in Washington, we're just at the state Capitol here in Annapolis, which is 30 miles down the road from the nation's capital, but we couldn't be more different and we're actually working together and getting things done on any number of issues. And it seems as if and I think it's worse than when George W. Bush was President. I think it's continued to get to the point where we have just such divisiveness and dysfunction in Washington. The Congress seems to be broken or hopelessly divided, and occasionally we can, on a particular issue, come together and get something done. But I think there's a lot of folks that spend more time worrying about how to win an argument on Twitter rather than trying to figure out how to reach an agreement and come up with a solution to a problem that people care about.
Willy Walker: I was going to ask you, is it an advantage or disadvantage to be so close to Washington just as it relates to influence over national politics? Is everyone sort of saying we see too much of you because you're right next door and if you flew in from California, it'd be better. Or is it really an advantage to be in a state that is adjacent to the District of Columbia?
Governor Larry Hogan: Sometimes it seems like we're pretty far away. We do things just about completely opposite of the way they do down the road in Washington, but we do surround the nation's capital and we're right here in the heart of the Mid-Atlantic region. And I think we've got a wonderful state and we work together with our partners in the region. But it's an interesting perspective. I mean, I certainly don't have to fly in from out in the heartland somewhere if there's some important issue going on at the White House or in Congress, if we want to try to be a part of what's going on. I try my best to focus on the things we're doing here in our state and try to stay out of Washington politics as much as I can. But it's an advantage to be able to be this close and be able to get to know some of the leaders there and work on problems together.
Willy Walker: I was surprised, governor, to hear you say that when you first campaigned for governor back in 2014, but the number one issue across all geographies and in Maryland was opiates. Talk about that first campaign and what you learn from meeting with Marylanders around the state.
Governor Larry Hogan: I was just a small businessman who had never held elective office and in a state where everybody was a Democrat, and I just became so frustrated with what was going on in our state because we had raised taxes 43 times in a row. We were overregulated and overtaxed. We had lost tens of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs. And you know, a Gallup poll came out that said 48 percent of all the people in our state wanted to move. And it just broke my heart as a lifelong Marylander, but also made me kind of angry enough to want to do something about it. And I stepped up and decided to run for governor. Even my closest friends, real estate partners and closest associates all thought I was completely crazy. They said, well, you might make a pretty good governor and we agree with what you're saying, but this is Maryland, and so you're not going to be elected governor.
But somehow we just went out with a grassroots campaign. I started a group called Change Maryland. I went all across the state just talking to people. We had very little funding. We weren't expected to win. I pulled off the biggest surprise upset in America in 2014. It was a big shocker because nobody was even paying attention to our race, as if we had no chance at all. But as I traveled around the state, people were frustrated with taxes, the economy and the loss of jobs, and the middle-class struggling families were really suffering. Small businesses were being hurt. But I was surprised as I traveled around the state that everywhere I went, I would sit down with the business community or with the community organization of local elected leaders and say, what's the number one issue or problem that you're facing within your community? And I kept hearing over and over again - opioids, which at that time in 2014, we weren't focused enough on. But this wasn't just in inner city Baltimore, it was in the wealthy suburbs of Montgomery County. It was in small rural communities and agricultural communities and out in western Maryland and on the eastern shore. And so immediately, I was the first governor in America to declare a state of emergency on the opioid crisis. We put a tremendous amount of time and attention to this issue, which is killing people and tearing apart families and communities all across the country. I appointed our lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford, to head up a task force that's still working to this day fighting this issue, and we were making great progress until COVID hit. And now unfortunately, that's it's put a lot of people under stress and we're still having major problems with the opioid crisis.
Willy Walker: Governor, I had dinner with Governor Polis here in Denver last week, and one of the things Governor Polis and I were talking about was how to revitalize downtown Denver. And one of the comments I made to the governor was, “well, at least baseball season will get some foot traffic back into downtown Denver, which is very much needed to try and create kind of a social atmosphere”. And the governor turned to me and said, “Well, if we have a baseball season and as you well know, the owners and the players haven't been able to come to an agreement.” Isn't baseball super important for cities such as Baltimore, Denver, and Seattle as it relates to the revitalization of the downtown urban core post-pandemic?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, it's obviously a major part of the issue of getting people downtown and getting people back to enjoying life again. But when people come into the city, it's not just the baseball game they attend, but it's the bars and restaurants that they come and support. It brings people into the city to see all the other things it has to offer. And so, I was also excited about the start of baseball season and opening day at Camden Yards and rooting on the Orioles. Although they haven't been doing so well on the field, we were hopeful for a season to get started. And it's a little disappointing. I'm hoping that they can reach an agreement, but it looks like we may be delayed by 30 days or so and I just hope they can reach an agreement because it's great for the fans and it's a big part of the pride of the city as well.
Willy Walker: Governor, soon after you got into office, 89 days to be exact, Freddie Gray died in the back of a police vehicle and incited a significant amount of riots and violence in Baltimore. I have watched what you did, read about what you did in your book, and you could teach a Harvard Business School case study on crisis management from the way you handled that situation. Can you walk us through a little bit the major steps you took that night and what the key elements were of both containing the violence, allowing for peaceful expression of anger, and the general de-escalation of that situation?
Governor Larry Hogan: As you point out, it was 89 days since I had been sworn in as governor and the worst violence in 47 years broke out in our largest city of Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray. This was not too long after Ferguson, kind of, but the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement, and there was legitimate concern in the community about what happened to this young man. It evolved into some pretty serious violence and riots in the city, police cars on fire, businesses and homes being destroyed. Some of it from people from outside the city. But some people with genuine frustrations, it got out of hand, and we had a mayor of Baltimore at the time who was not willing to do anything to stop it. In fact, went on national TV and said she was going to give the rioters room to destroy. And I decided we were not going to allow it. As soon as it broke out, we were preparing for this for days with the possibility of it happening, we had already put the state police and the National Guard on alert to be ready. And that night, when the violence broke out, I immediately declared a state of emergency. We sent in 4,000 members of the National Guard and a thousand police officers to immediately stop all the violence. And yet we were very careful about the way we did it. We allowed peaceful protests to go on for a solid week, but we just didn't let people throw bricks through windows or set things on fire, and we let the Baltimore City Police take the front. We backed them up with five different state police agencies and then an outer ring with the National Guard for backup. I was reminded of Ronald Reagan’s “Peace through strength”. Going back to Reagan and my ties there and my admiration for him. I wanted to make sure that we were going to be able to stop the violence because the people in the city were crying out, they were concerned about their city burning down. But I didn't want to further incite the violence. And so, we sent an overwhelming force into the city and then didn't use that force. I immediately went into the burning city with my entire command team and senior leadership of state government and stayed there for a week and walked the streets. I met with faith-based leaders and with the NAACP. We went to every neighborhood, went into West Baltimore first morning as the sun was coming up with the smoke coming out of a CVS there, kind of ground zero, and then I went and walked in Freddie Gray's neighborhood. And we were able to lower the temperature and listen to the legitimate concerns and allow the peaceful protesting. But we totally stopped the violence, and I think it's a lesson for others that didn't follow that advice. When we had disturbances last summer and within cities there were mayors and governors that didn't do that. But to your point about teaching a course, I don't know if I can do one at Harvard Business School, but I did teach a course at the National Governors Association to other governors on how they should handle a crisis like that. And, you know, maybe I can get a gig at Florida State, my alma mater, teaching that course.
Willy Walker: I'm sure there are plenty of places that would love to hear you talk about that. Governor, as you think about race relations in America and your very effective handling of that, on both sides of it containing the violence, but at the same time also allowing for the expression of anger and then also peaceful demonstration to say things need to change. How do we change America going forward?
Governor Larry Hogan: These are issues that we're all grappling with, and I think again, it goes back to the common denominator of listening and showing up and reaching across the aisle and working together to try to find common sense solutions. And you know, the riots in Baltimore back in 2015 was just the start. We've continued to go back to Baltimore and invested, record funding and education eight years in a row, tore down the Baltimore City Jail. We passed criminal justice reform, one of the most sweeping and the first one in the country where we reduced our prison population more than 49 other states. We've taken action for reentry programs, job training and workforce development. We've reinvested money into our urban areas and into the black community. We have gone down with a group effort called Project C.O.R.E., where we tore down 8,000 blighted properties and started redevelopment in communities that really needed it. And so, working on the root causes of these problems, working on police reform. I was one of the ones that stood up loudly and clearly against this defunding the police. I said, how can you improve policing and make reforms without investing more money so we can recruit and retain and do better training and teach de-escalation techniques and pay for body cams? And so, we put a half a billion-dollar refund the police initiative, putting more money in state and local police and pushing for tougher sentences for violent offenders and people who commit felonies with guns. We've got to get the worst of the worst offenders off the streets. It is interesting to hear President Biden actually come around to that position last night where he's actually supporting it, which I applaud.
But interestingly, those actions that we've taken, going in to keep the people of Baltimore safe, working on doing something about the violent crime and putting more money into police, along with all of the social programs and the efforts that we're doing to try to fix the root causes, it's very popular in Baltimore City and among the black voters of our state. I currently have an 80 percent approval among black voters, and we have some elected officials who have been trying to stop us from those things and saying, we need to get rid of the police and we shouldn't put violent criminals in jail. And it's just, there's no one that supports that position.
Willy Walker: So, governor, after the Freddie Gray incident and your effective handling of it, a couple of months later, you took your first trade mission to Asia. And while you were there, you came back feeling a little off and you had a lump on your neck and the next thing you knew you were being diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I've read your account of being diagnosed and having the doctors tell you that. What I found to be very interesting was fast forwarding through all of that and the shock and the obvious significant concern on your own part as it relates to your health at that moment. But when you got into your SUV to drive home, you got in the back and rather than going to your iPhone and going on to WebMD and doing immediate research on Hodgkin's Lymphoma or calling your wife or your best friend, you put on Tim McGraw song “Live Like You Were Dying” and you closed your eyes. Take us back to that moment.
Governor Larry Hogan: I had just been through my first legislative session, we just went through the riots, I had just a few months earlier, won the biggest surprise upset in America, and I had no idea that I had health issues. But while I was on this trade mission, we were halfway around the world. We were in Korea, China, and Japan, and I was walking the Great Wall of China, and I just felt like things weren't right. I think my back was bothering me on the plane ride. And then on my last day in Japan, a kind of lump popped out of my throat, and I decided that I need to go check this out when I get home. I just was feeling a little off, but I expect that I just hadn't slept much. I was working hard, long trip. But as it turns out, I had 40 or 50 tumors that had spread all over my body, which was a complete shock to me, and I was concerned about how we're going to deal with that and treat that. These three doctors walked into the room and told me this news and it was a Friday afternoon approaching Father's Day weekend. I was on my way to be with my wife and three daughters and my dad who was still living at that time, was coming over for the weekend. And I was thinking about how I'm going to tell them and the six million people that had just elected me as their governor that their state was in these potentially shaky hands of somebody that's facing a life-threatening cancer diagnosis? And so, I was just on the way from the doctor to the governor's mansion. I'm a country music fan and I like Tim McGraw, and he has this great song called “Live Like You Were Dying” that talks about making the most out of every day. And I was just trying to gather my thoughts on this 15-minute ride home, and the first thing I did was just listen to that song and it kind of spoke to me. I printed out the lyrics and I played it over and over again. I have the lyrics sitting on my desk, and it was quite an ordeal. I went through six months of 24-hour day chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, and it was pretty advanced, but I came out of it really strong.
To wrap this story up – Tim McGraw, just by chance, happened to be doing a benefit for the Children's Hospital at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where I was being treated and I was at the end of my chemo. I got to go introduce him, got to meet him backstage and I thanked Tim McGraw. I said, “You really inspired me with your song”. And he told me how he thinks of his dad, Tug McGraw, who was a baseball player, who died of brain cancer. He said every time he sings the song, other people tell him how much they connect to it. He came out and sang the final song of the night and dedicated “Live Like You Were Dying” to me and a concert full of people. Tears were rolling down my face and it was just really emotional. I appreciated it. And then, as I was kind of limping back to my truck still really in bad shape from chemo, his manager came out and handed me a guitar that Tim McGraw had inscribed on – “To the Gov, live like you're dying - Tim McGraw” I have it hanging in my office here in Annapolis. It's one of my favorite possessions.
Willy Walker: So, governor, beyond living everyday like you're dying because we all are any other songs or mottos that you turn to from time to time, whether it's either in good times or bad times that keep you headed in the right direction?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, you know, Willy, I use a lot of Reagan quotes and listen to a lot of country music. I get inspiration from different places, but you know, I just really think that going through that cancer battle, after all the other battles and all the other victories and losses, I think you learn so much out of the times of adversity. And one thing I just learned if I didn't already know it was that I just try to make the most out of every day. I give it everything I’ve got. I’ve only got roughly a year left in my term as governor. I’m term limited here till January of 2023, and I’m still like running through the tape. I'm still working just as hard every day as I was. There's no quit. You know, I get up every day trying to say, what else can we accomplish? How can we get more things done? How can we help people? So, I think it's just making the most out of every day. Sometimes you can prepare for things and plan. Sometimes things are going to hit you out of the blue that you're not expecting, like make your largest city breaking out in a riot, or a scary personal diagnosis. But I think just working through those things, keeping focused and keep moving forward, that's one of the keys to success.
Willy Walker: How important do you think is showing that vulnerability? Obviously there was no way for you to hide the vulnerability, you were sick and had stage three cancer. Showing that vulnerability to the people who elected you. Leaders want to kind of project this image of invulnerability and that we're out there to lead and those hard things will come along, and we can handle them? And you were forced to show a side to your personality that showed you are vulnerable, human, and real. And that's got to play significantly to your overall persona and the reason Maryland voters are so attracted to you. Do you agree with that?
Governor Larry Hogan: Thank you, Willy. I never thought of it like that. But it's true. People often ask me, “Well, how are you so popular in a state that's overwhelmingly Democrat and you're a Republican?'' And I think part of it is people just think I'm a regular guy who tells it like it is, going through difficult times and showing vulnerability and just letting people see who you really are is something that sometimes politicians don't do. I think I'm always like that, always transparent, whether you like what I have to say or not, you know, I'm just telling you what I really think. There's not a lot of spin with me, and I think people say to me all the time, “I really appreciate you” or they'll say, “I'm a Liberal Democrat and I've never even considered voting for a Republican, and I don't agree with you on everything, but I just think you're a real guy.” And I go, well, that's because I am a regular guy. And I think people appreciate that. Going through the personal scare with cancer, I had a beautiful head of hair like yours, only it was white. I look like a guy who should be on TV. And then all my hair fell out and people could see right in front of them, I was going through quite a struggle. But I think I showed people exactly what was going on. I think they appreciate that I'm a real guy that goes through difficult things just like every one of them does and keeps working hard every day.
Willy Walker: You wrote eloquently, governor, about that day that you did go home, and you told your wife Yumi as well as your family members about your diagnosis and the person who took it the hardest is your dad. Talk about that for a moment because, you know, fortunately, most of us don’t get faced with that type of a conversation with our parents, and every parent’s worst nightmare is to lose a child before they pass themselves. But that’s also an incredible opportunity for you and your father to share that feeling of the father – son bond that you developed up until that moment.
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, I just came home from the doctor, and I first told my wife, Yumi, and she hugged me and said, we're going to get through this together. We're going to say some prayers together. My daughter then came, and everybody cried and hugged each other. But we all were pretty tough, and they were very supportive, and I let them know I was going to make it through, and everything was going to be fine. But my dad, who was 85, was over for dinner and I had to break the news to my dad. I've never seen him, ever in my life like this. I mean, he couldn't eat dinner. He was crying. And I think no matter how old you get, the loss of a child or thinking you might lose your child was something. I'm an old guy, but to my dad, I was still the little kid who he didn't know how to help.
Willy Walker: It's an incredible story, and we're all obviously thankful that you went through your treatment and that you are cancer free for almost six years, correct?
Governor Larry Hogan: I can't thank enough incredible doctors, a wonderful support system and millions of people praying for me around Maryland, around the country and the world, and just I got blessed by the Pope and I had prayer vigils at churches of every denomination. And it was an incredible experience. I'm stronger than ever now. I just have my hair not looking so good.
Willy Walker: But it's all good. So, governor, let's go back to business from the personal. So, you ran for re-election, and you got reelected and you won by 15 points. As I said previously, you are the first Republican governor to be re-elected in the 242 years at that time now, 246 years of the state of Maryland. How did you do it? I distinctly remember Adrian Fenty, who is the mayor of Washington, D.C., was a very good friend of mine, and Adrian ran his first campaign going door to door and putting signs in everyone's yard, and it worked masterfully to win his first campaign. But on the second time around, he went back to campaigning the same way he did the first time. And unfortunately, it didn't work the second time. He went back to the same playbook, and it didn't happen. So, you had that same challenge, if you will, in your re-election. What did you do differently to make it so that you won by 15 points?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, it was a totally different experience, the first time when I ran in 2014, no one had any idea who I was. We weren't able to raise any money, and everything was just grassroots, shoe leather and hard work. There was a mood in our state that people “I don't even know who that guy is, but I'm fed up with the taxes.” And so, I came from nowhere and surprised everyone. When I was an incumbent, that wasn't surprising anyone. I was a Republican Governor in the bluest state in the country, in a state that Donald Trump lost to Hillary by 31 points. And it was right in between you know, his two elections he lost to Joe Biden, but by 33 points. And so right in the middle of that, in 2018, I had a re-election battle against a really tough opponent who was the past president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and in a state that's got one of the highest black populations. And so even though I had a job approval rating, people liked the job I was doing as governor. You know, President Trump had an approval of something like 29 or 30 percent, and there were a lot of people saying, “I'm just going to vote against every Republican just to send a message to Donald Trump”. And so, we had to overcome that and try to let people know that, hey, I'm not Donald Trump and I'm the guy who you think is doing a good job as governor and you can't take that out on us. So, it was a difficult race. It was a lot easier raising money the second time as an incumbent and so we didn’t have the shoestring campaign, but I still did the same grassroots working hard every day and letting people know we never forgot. And we’ve been in every corner of the state, and it just was a tougher race than it turned out to be. I mean, we won in a landslide, and I was reelected. It doesn't usually happen in our state, but the tide was against us. It was a huge blue wave in a huge blue year in the bluest state. And we won overwhelmingly, and I got in that race about 35 percent of the black vote. I kept running against an African American leader of the NAACP, which goes back to those riots in Baltimore and the record funding for education and all the efforts. We got a lot of credit. That's something that I don't know that any Republican has ever done.
Willy Walker: So, you mentioned that President-Elect Trump against Hillary Clinton and then President Trump against Joe Biden, lost by 30 or 33 points in both of them, you won by 15, so you got a 45-point margin over President Trump. As I hear you say that it does put into context a little bit your ability to speak your mind and point out issues with President Trump that other governors of redder states that might have a tighter re-election campaign weren't able to do, is that a fair assessment?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, perhaps, but it wouldn't have changed. The politics didn't enter into it. I didn't support Trump in either election and didn't have any problem speaking out against all the things that I thought he was doing wrong. Now look, I worked with him together the whole time he was president, I was chairman of the National Governors Association all through COVID. I had quite a bit of involvement with them, but I had no hesitation to say what I thought and speak out even if it was unpopular. You know, it goes back to my dad in Watergate with Nixon, and he did what he thought was right for the country. And that's why I've done what I think is right for my state and what I think is right for the country. I won the same number of votes among Republicans and base voters as Trump did. But I was able to add to that a lot of voters that he turned off. So, I told you about the big numbers of the black community. I won the Asian vote; I won the Hispanic vote and I won suburban women overwhelmingly in all areas where President Trump did not do well. And I think that's kind of what could happen in other places. I think we set an example for a road back for the Republican Party, if you will.
Willy Walker: You just mentioned governor, that you worked with President Trump on numerous occasions. I think you said when you were head of the NGA that you had something like 42 meetings at the White House and all the governors at the beginning of the pandemic and throughout the early stages of the pandemic. I heard you say that governor, and we've got 50 chief executives of their own states. We've got the chief executive of the United States of America and then some other staffers. What's a Zoom call with all the governors and the President of the United States like and who actually speaks?
Governor Larry Hogan: I don't think it's ever happened, ever in the history of our country. And quite frankly, the governors typically get together at a governor's conference a couple of times a year, maybe for the National Governors Association, either the Democratic governors or Republican governors, maybe quarterly or two or three times a year, you might see each other. When COVID hit, the governors were on the front line leading, and I was leading the governors. We had to deal with the federal government on an almost daily basis. And so, when I had a D.C. conference of the National Governors Association, I was the chair and I called together all the leaders of the federal government to come address the governors there. As things started to evolve, this was back in February of 2019[sic]. But as things started to evolve, I got a call from Vice President Pence to come to the Situation Room the first day that they appointed Deborah Burke to head up that effort there as a White House coronavirus coordinator the first time the president appointed the vice president to head it up. And I was there with all the leaders of the federal government. The rest of the governors were on Zoom. I was in the Situation Room in the White House, and we did a couple of them like that. And then I led off for the governors, all 64 of those Zooms with either the President and/or the Vice President and the entire coronavirus task force. So, it would be the head of NIH, CDC, and FDA and all of the top leaders. The way it worked was typically I would speak first on behalf of the governors, thank them for whatever efforts they're doing and then press the things that were our priorities. You know, we need help on pushing on testing, we need Title 32, to authorize spending for the National Guard. I would always have the list of five or six things that we needed that day or that week. And then the president or the vice president would give their presentation and they'd have some of their cabinet secretaries give us updates and then later in it, we'd open it up for some dialog and questions with the other governors.
But I remember one time in particular, after hammering pretty hard on some things, I started out one of these Zooms with the President saying, “Mr. President, I just want to thank you and your team for the great cooperation with the governors, and I want to thank you for that success on Operation Warp Speed, which is going to save so many lives.” And he says, “Oh, so you're being nice to me this time?” (Laughs) And I’m like, “What do you mean, Mr. President? I'm always nice.” I think sometimes I ruffled his feathers a little bit, but that was my job. I was working on behalf of the Democrat and Republican governors and trying to get what we needed for the states.
Willy Walker: Do you think things came out of those meetings? I have executive meetings all the time at Walker & Dunlop on Zoom, and I meet with clients on Zoom, and I always sort of wonder how much is actually accomplished as you do them. With fifty governors and the President of the United States, did things really come out of those meetings or was it more of just an information sharing session?
Governor Larry Hogan: These were early on in the crisis. These were life and death decisions. These were people trying to make decisions that potentially are going to save tens of thousands of lives. So, it was these serious, intense discussions. And I think later in the crisis, as people got used to it and they became more kind of just sharing of information back and forth. But in the beginning, it was pretty intense. We had never had the leaders of all the states talking with the President or Vice President, all the cabinet secretaries about things that may potentially kill a lot of our residents and what we were going to do to try to save lives and livelihoods. It was pretty, pretty intense. And I don't think it's ever happened before or if it will ever happen again. But they were productive. I'll say we had really great discussions sometimes with the vice president leading when the president wasn't there, I think they were more productive, frankly. But then there would be a press conference later where they might say something completely off the wall that would kind of ruin some of the progress we made in an hour and a half conversation, but we'd have to go back and put the pieces back together.
Willy Walker: I hear you mention Vice President Pence there. One thing in doing research for you, what I thought was interesting was that I think I'm correct that Vice President Pence was head of the Republican Governors Association when you were first running and put money into your campaign against everyone's thoughts that you actually had a fighting chance and that that was a key funding to your 2014 original campaign, am I correct on that?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, he was not, but he was on the executive committee, and he was involved in the decisions of Chris Christie from New Jersey.
Willy Walker: That was it. It was Christie.
Governor Larry Hogan: They had spent all of the money on 26 other states that they had targeted. They thought, I was on the “no way in hell” list where they thought I was the least likely to succeed, so they're not going to put any money in Maryland, but we had tied the race with about 10 days to go and so Christie was trying to help us, but they'd spent all the money. And Christie wanted to draw a million dollars on a line of credit. That was their operating line to pay for staff for the RGA after the election. They had never done it before and didn't have time for an executive committee. So, he called Mike Pence to say, I want to talk to you about adding one more race into the mix. He said, OK, and he said, I want to talk to you about Maryland. And Christie says there's a long perceptible pause on the other line and Mike Pence says, “Chris, have you been drinking?” He eventually agreed and they drew on the line at the last minute, put a couple of TV commercials in the Washington market and helped us. We were already at the goal line, and they helped push us over.
Willy Walker: So, your term ends in January of 2023 governor, you said you won't run for Senate, which allowed Chris Van Hollen to actually get a good night's sleep on February 8th, the day you announced you won’t run for Senate.
Governor Larry Hogan: I even called Chris Van Hollen to tell him, that's the bipartisanship there. You can go ahead and get a good night's sleep tonight. I'm not going to run against you. Polls show me beating them by 12. So, he was losing a little sleep, I think.
Willy Walker: But you haven't ruled out running for President and you've also said you haven't ruled out running for president, regardless of whether former President Trump is in the race or not. So, what's the calculus between now and next January?
Governor Larry Hogan: You know, honestly, the real calculus is I'm just focused. It may sound like I'm giving you some spin, but it's really the truth. I'm going to finish focusing on every day being the best governor I can be. I want to run through the tape. I want to finish the job. I want to give the taxpayers of Maryland their monies worth every single day and keep solving problems and keep making progress. And so, I'm not even thinking about the politics, and I've said that I'm going to finish this job in January 2023. I just didn't rule it out. I've never talked about running for President. There are people asking me to consider it, and I said, “let's just finish the job at hand. I don't like it when people are focused on the next job.” But after I'm done, next year, I've certainly said I was going to be willing to sit down and talk about that. I don't know what the lay of the land looks like, but I'm very concerned about my Republican Party, and I'm very concerned about the country, and I want to be a part of the discussion. And I want to do everything I can and contribute where I can. But I don't know at this point exactly what that path is going to be.
Willy Walker: So, I want to ask you about two big issues before we end and run out of time. The first is COVID and the second is Ukraine. I watched an interview you did on Face the Nation on January 16th, so only six weeks ago, and in that you had just called up a thousand troops from the National Guard. You'd committed distribution of 20 million N95 and KN95 masks to Marylanders and here we are, a seemingly very short period of time later, the CDC has just withdrawn their indoor mask guidelines, and most people feel like the pandemic is done. Are we done governor?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, we're certainly done through this latest Omicron surge in most of the country. In Maryland, we now have one of the most vaccinated states in America, and we've taken this very, very seriously. We did have a pretty alarming surge that spiked straight up like most people did. And then luckily, we got it down. We're down 95 percent on our hospitalizations. We have the lowest case rate in America, the lowest positivity rate in America. So, we're very hopeful. I don't think we can say that we're done. I think everybody is ready to get back to normal. You know, we've got everything open. We don't have a mask mandate. Nearly everyone is vaccinated. Hospitalizations are way, way down. So, we're in a very hopeful, positive place, and I think we need to continue to move forward. We've got one of the best economic recoveries in America because we've been so successful on COVID, and we've kept everything open and kept people working. But you know, this virus is not going away. And so, we went up and finished getting people boosted so they have as much immunity as they can get. And we want some of the states that aren't doing as well, we'd like to see them make some more progress, but this thing is going to keep mutating. And you know, this virus is not gone. It's not eradicated. We're in a much, much better place and we're hopeful that we've seen the worst of it.
Willy Walker: I will point out, governor, that response is very in line with what I've watched you speak about this many, many times and going and researching for this and what I found to be so interesting about your response, even in the depths of the pandemic was it was always a transparent view with data that gave the truth and yet also maintained some hope. I had a Harvard Business School professor, Nancy Koehn, on the Walker Webcast in the depths of the pandemic. Talking about great leadership and one of the things that she talked about was Sir Ernest Shackleton and how he kept his crew of his ship moving forward and giving them hope for a day that they would get off the ice sheet, but not by trying to sort of paint it all with, “Oh, we're going to get out of here tomorrow” but giving them realistic data on this is what we need to do to get there. Don't lose hope that we can, but at the same time, it's going to be a really, really hard drive to get there. And I would just point out that having watched you talk about this, I'm sure in your world too much over the last two years, it's been really impressive the way that you have given people hope that we're going to get to the other side of it at the same time, not sort of shied away from the data or the reality of how dangerous this virus is.
Governor Larry Hogan: Thank you for pointing that out. I believe it was a couple of things that we did well: 1) I surrounded myself with the smartest people I could find with epidemiologists, virologists, public health doctors and people in the business community. We had an incredible team of people working on this day and night for two years. It is not the way any of us wanted to spend our last two years, but so we made really good decisions based on lots of data and input and we were tracking it hour by hour. But then I also thought it was critically important that we had clear, consistent, direct, and honest messaging. I wanted to give people the facts, but the facts were kind of scary. And so, I did try to be hopeful without whitewashing the seriousness of what we were dealing with. And it seems to have worked. As I said, we've had, if not the best, certainly one of the best responses to the virus in the entire country. I think we have something like 86 percent approval of our handling of the virus, which is kind of amazing. There were some tough times, but we made the decisions and then we told people what the decisions were and why we were making them and how things were going to get better. We did try to be hopeful and clear and honest.
Willy Walker: So finally, governor on Ukraine, we're all watching that situation unfold with varying degrees of frustration, anger, fear, a bunch of other emotions. As I've read about it, one of the interesting things that I've read is the stability/instability paradox that because Russia has such a large nuclear arsenal as the United States does, that means that it's unlikely we will get to World War III. But it also ties our hands from taking more aggressive military action to try and stop what they're doing. If you were down the road from where you are in Annapolis and on Pennsylvania Avenue. Anything you'd be doing differently today as it relates to the conflict in Ukraine?
Governor Larry Hogan: First of all, I mean, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Ukraine, and I can't tell you how impressed I've been with their bravery. And Volodymyr Zelensky has done just an incredible job. I see the world leaders come together in support. I went to a Ukrainian Catholic church in Baltimore on Monday and just to let the community know that we're all behind them and was hugging and crying with some folks who are really worried about their loved ones back in Ukraine. Tonight, here at our State House, where we have a big vigil, where we’re going to rally people to just let them know that we’re in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. And I’m very thankful for the fact that, for the first time in a long time. And I think Putin probably inadvertently was responsible for creating this, but really united NATO and EU and people around the world rallying. We’re seeing this nation fight for their freedom and fight for their homeland with everything they’ve got, and it’s been truly inspiring.
I don't want to second guess our Monday morning quarterback or question the president, but I think we could have been a little tougher, a little sooner. To a certain extent, we were leading from behind and we let Europe move ahead of us. I think sanctions are the way we have to deal with this, but I think we could have imposed them before the fact rather than after the fact and maybe gone all the way. I think we've got to look at energy policy a little differently. I like some of what the President was saying and doing as of last night. But I think, we've got to worry about – going back to Reagan in a totally different time but with similar kinds of issues eerily similar and Putin is potentially an irrational actor, we don't know how he's going to react, he's backed into a corner. I don't know how he's going to lash out. We're not in a position and shouldn't be intervening militarily, but we should do everything we possibly can to support Ukraine and with all of the armament capabilities and all the funding, we ought to take every step we can take on, and on sanctions. And quite frankly, we've got to start thinking about our defense spending. And for the first time, people are understanding that the world is still a dangerous place and America still needs to be a leader of the free world. We have a defense authorization bill that's coming up in about eight or nine days, and I hear no talk about that in the President's speech. But we're going to have to make sure that we provide the military with the resources we need.
Willy Walker: So finally, governor, a quote from you that I'd love to get you to just talk about how you keep this going forward, which is, first of all, you are the most popular governor in America. And you've said that “Successful politics is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.” It feels to many of us that we are in a political world that is all about subtraction and division. So how do we get our politics back more focused on addition and multiplication?
Governor Larry Hogan: Well, it's something I'm really focused on and when in addition to my day job and working hard for the people of Maryland, when I do involve myself in political activities across the country or on a national basis, it's what I've been talking about and what I've been focused on here for nearly eight years and it's what I think is critically important. Toxic politics is tearing America apart. It really comes back from Reagan's time talking about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division, and we have been doing a whole lot of subtracting and dividing. You know, I was able to kind of build these coalitions. I didn't just win with base Republican voters, but I got the support of nearly all of the independents in the state and a large chunk of discerning Democrats. And we went into areas where most Republicans never go, and we tried to talk about solutions. We've worked together with people on the other side of the aisle. I think it's what America's hungry for. It's the loudest voices that seem to get the most attention, the most radical. And frankly, in both parties, they're a very small minority. And I think more than 70 percent of the people in America really do want to... They're frustrated with the Democrats and Republicans, with the anger, the finger pointing and the name-calling in Washington and the lack of getting anything done, the divisiveness and the dysfunction, and they want to fix it. And so, I really do. I wrote a book that touched on some of this. What do we do about overcoming the toxic politics in America? I think it's critically important for our democracy, and I believe strongly in a competitive Two-Party system. And I think we've got to get back to trying to find a way to disagree passionately on issues while still being civil and without attacking or demeaning the person that disagrees with you or doubting their patriotism or attacking them as a person. We've got to get back to working together to fix things for the American people. We've got serious problems that need to be addressed.
Willy Walker: Governor, as the CEO of a company based in your great state with many men and women…
Governor Larry Hogan: Thank you, we appreciate the tax revenue.
Willy Walker: You're very welcome and we've grown to create more of it. Governor, thank you. You've been very generous with your time. It's fantastic all you've done for the great state of Maryland. Good luck in the rest of your term. And we're all waiting with bated breath to see whether you decide that you're going to run for the Presidency in 2024. And if you do, good luck to you.
Governor Larry Hogan: Willy, thank you so much for the opportunity. And again, congratulations to you and the company. We appreciate all of that revenue you've been generating here and all the growth. We're so happy to be able to call you a Marylander, sort of.
Willy Walker: Well, thank you, governor. Have a great day and thank you everyone for joining us. Take care. Bye bye.