Hogan ‘pouring gasoline’ on a fire to bolster his White House hopes, Franchot says

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Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) accused Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Wednesday of using false and divisive rhetoric about law enforcement funding to propel his presidential hopes.

Hogan, seated just inches away at the bimonthly meeting of the Board of Public Works, bluntly rejected the charges.

The back-and-forth came out of nowhere, as police funding was not on the board’s agenda.

Instead, Franchot — a leading candidate for governor next year — pivoted off of a recommendation to authorize $556,787 in compensation to Leslie Vass, a Baltimore resident whose 1975 conviction on an armed robbery charge was overturned several years into his imprisonment, after a key trial witness recanted their testimony.

The motion, which was uncontroversial, passed unanimously.

But the comptroller seized on the item to lambaste Hogan for his recent attacks on Democrats, in particular a Tuesday fundraising pitch from the governor’s political action committee, An America United. It alleged that “Law enforcement across the nation is being GUTTED because of dangerous, radical, and far-left lunacy.”

“Support AAU’s mission with a contribution of $500, $250, $100, $50, $25 or just $10,” the message concluded.

On Friday, Hogan announced that he will request $150 million from the General Assembly — most of it for local police agencies, salary increases and hiring bonuses — for a “Re-Fund the Police” initiative. He said he will also seek funding for “safer neighborhoods,” witness incentives and other items.

“Trying to reduce crime by defunding the police is dangerous, radical, far-left lunacy,” he said. “The reality is that our police are underfunded and under attack.”

Three days later he addressed an organization representing police chiefs and sheriffs in Ocean City, where he offered nearly identical remarks.

“All of us want to reduce violence,” Franchot told Hogan on Wednesday. “What does not build safer communities or ease the political tensions… is sending fundraising emails with the subject line ‘far-left lunacy.’”

“Nor is the solution to characterize those of us who believe that we need to invest in more mental health and social services, and economic opportunity and better training, as being in favor of ‘defunding the police,’” the comptroller added.

Franchot noted the state police and the Department of Public Safety budgets in Maryland have grown substantially over the last decade.

“It’s quite a stretch to say that any jurisdiction is defunding the police,” Franchot said. “Pouring gasoline on an already raging fire of political discord is not going to solve our crime problem — or any problem.”

Hogan punched back when Franchot finished reading his remarks.

“I also assume that you do not agree with abolishing the police in Baltimore City,” he said. “I didn’t make any reference to anyone but that one particular person,” an apparent reference to one member of the Baltimore City Council, Ryan Dorsey (D), who recently suggested in a tweet that the city’s police department be abolished.

The Hogan fundraising pitch that Franchot referenced made no reference to Dorsey or Baltimore, though it did make claims about public safety across the nation.

In an email, An America United’s David Weinman provided links to a Forbes article from August 2020 — under the misleading headline, “At Least 13 Cities Are Defunding Their Police Departments” — that showed shifts from police agencies to other parts of the budget.

AAU also provided links to articles showing a 2.8% police cut in Prince George’s County and a 3% trim in Montgomery, cuts that helped enable funding increases for education and social services.

Political analyst Todd Eberly said the skirmish between Franchot and Hogan probably benefitted both men.

“Franchot is seeking a nomination from Democratic primary voters, and Hogan is looking for a future that will at least initially be dependent on Republican primary voters,” he said.

A political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Eberly said it’s unsurprising that Hogan would attempt to tie Democrats to the “Defund the Police” movement as attempts to become a player nationally.

“It’s a big issue with Republican voters,” he said. “(It’s) an issue that Democrats nationally have been sensitive to for two years now. Democrats don’t want to defund the police. That’s not what it means.”

If the skirmish was a bit of stage-play among two longtime allies, to bolster Franchot’s 2022 gubernatorial bid, the pair hid it well.

“It seemed like a genuine moment,” Eberly said.

Perhaps ironically, the two politicians lashed out at one another at a session that began with a tribute to Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), who will retire later this year after close to 20 years in her post.

In a recent interview, she gently took her BPW colleagues to task for using the board’s meetings as PR opportunities.

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