By Lejla Sarcevic
ANNAPOLIS (Oct. 30, 2014)—Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. stood beside his father on the floor of the United States House of Representatives in January of 1969, raised his right hand and said the words of the oath of office.
"He said, 'Raise your right hand and repeat the oath after me and that way we'll get two votes for the 5th Congressional District.'" Larry Hogan said, laughing, while recalling his father's swearing-in ceremony 45 years later. "I try to say I'm not a politician, but I was sworn in at 12."
Hogan's formative years by his father's side foreshadow how the genial man ended up mounting a competitive race against Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in this year's Maryland gubernatorial election, despite many observers saying his campaign lacks substance.
"As a little kid I was involved in politics, you know from 10 or 12 years old, handing out literature, handing out bumper stickers and putting up signs and going to rallies," Hogan said during a 90-minute interview in the sparse conference room of the newly renovated offices of Hogan Companies - a commercial real estate brokerage firm he started in the mid-80s that has to date handled over $2 billion in property transactions.
"The thing about Larry is his personality, he genuinely cares about people," said Hogan's friend Steve McAdams, who founded Residential Appraisal Service, in Edgewater. "He can talk with anybody and he takes the time to talk with anybody."
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said that Hogan is the kind of guy who "passes the pool hall test."
As secretary of appointments, a cabinet-level position, in the Ehrlich administration, Hogan was designated to go out and chat up Democratic legislators, including Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George's Counties.
"Whenever we would have a problem with the legislature, he would send me out to go have a beer with Mike Miller," said Hogan, 58.
Commuters responded well to the smiling Hogan and his running mate, Boyd Rutherford, on a campaign stop at the Branch Avenue Metro station on Thursday, the first day of early voting.
"It's been fun meeting people," said Rutherford, an attorney and former general services secretary under Ehrlich.
Rutherford also served as the assistant secretary for administration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture during George W. Bush's presidency. Rutherford bolsters the ticket by bringing legal and governmental experience to the table.
Hogan's tax-cutting, pro-business message has hit a nerve: Two recent polls show that the economy and jobs concern Maryland voters the most, followed by taxes, and education.
It's resonating with disgruntled independent voters. A poll conducted by Gonzales Research and Marketing showing Brown's job approval rating among independents at 35 percent, with a 47 percent disapproval rating.
But not everyone agrees that Hogan is connecting well with the electorate.
"He doesn't have a very engaging personality. When he gets out in front of an audience, he seems angry," said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus with the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University.
"I'm not so sure that I'm a supporter of him as I'm not a supporter of the opponent," said independent voter Dana Beausoleil, at the Branch Avenue Metro stop.
But Hogan has been able to excite the small Republican base, as well as attracting independent voters.
"When you're a Republican in Maryland, that talent is difficult to find," Ehrlich said.
It's talent that was fostered at an early age.
"I learned a heck of a lot from my dad. Quite frankly, I learned more about integrity and doing the right thing, and making tough choices and about putting aside party politics to make the right decisions, what he thought was right for the country," Hogan said. "He was my biggest influence and my biggest hero."
Lawrence Hogan Sr. was a three-term congressman. He sat on the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate scandal and was the only Republican on the committee to vote for all three articles of impeachment.
Hogan attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, with dreams of playing basketball under the legendary coach Morgan Wootten, but wasn't quite good enough for Wootten's high standards. Instead, he became a team manager.
When his parents divorced, he moved to Florida with his mom and finished the last two years of high school at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach before attending Florida State University, which at the time offered free tuition for in-state students.
During his studies at Florida State, Hogan continued to cut his political teeth while working for Thomas F. "Tom" Lewis, R- 83rd district, who at the time was the house minority leader in the Florida House of Representatives.
In 1992, he launched a run for his dad's old seat, Maryland's 5th Congressional. Though, by that time, it was held by the virtually unbeatable Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer.
After his defeat Hogan continued on with his real estate business - but politics are inescapable for him, even while he insists he is not a professional politician.
"He had no idea I was going to force him to take a cabinet position. He thought he was done with politics at the time," said Ehrlich, recalling the meeting he had with Hogan right after his election in 2002. "He came to see me to catch up and congratulate me, but I said 'no, this is a business meeting.'"
And so Ehrlich pulled Hogan back into the political fray by naming him the secretary of appointments.
Five years after Gov. Martin O'Malley's election, Hogan founded Change Maryland, an anti-tax organization, and three years later he announced his candidacy for governor.
"He understands Annapolis, he's steeped in Maryland politics," Ehrlich said.
In 2001, having refocused his attention on his business and a private life, he attended an exhibition opening and met the Korean artist, Yumi Kim.
They married three years later.
"As a matter of fact, when he met Yumi we laughed, we didn't even know he went to art galleries," said McAdams, who is listed as an associate on the Hogan Companies website.
Hogan appears to make it a habit of surprising those around him.
"I thought he was really cool. I remember walking down in Annapolis, my mom and Larry had taken us out to eat at Phillips in downtown Annapolis," said Jaymi Sterling, one of Yumi's three daughters. "I was quick-firing questions at him."
She was trying to get a measure of the new man in her mom's life.
"At the time I was really into Frank Sinatra. He was like 'eh, he's OK,' and I asked him, 'Who do you like?' He liked all the cool bands, he liked top 40," Sterling said.
Eventually, for Sterling and her two sisters, Kim Velez and Julie Kim, Hogan would become "dad."
When the eldest, Velez, joined the Army, Sterling said, she felt a responsibility to help take care of Kim.
"When I left to go to college in Michigan, I felt like I was abandoning and leaving my baby sister," Sterling said. "When he came into our lives, he really became our dad. To me it meant a lot because I knew he was taking care of my baby sister."
The family has evolved since then. Velez and Sterling are both married, Velez has a baby and Kim lives in Chicago.
When they find time to gather, family time for the Hogans is about food, football and karaoke at their Edgewater home.
It begins with a series of emails. "Who's picking up Julie from the airport, what are we eating? We put a menu together," Sterling said.
Hogan acts as the official taste-tester while Yumi cooks traditional Korean food, and Sterling's husband, Ben Sterling, pitches in.
Yumi's birthday is on Christmas and one year the family pitched in and bought her a Korean karaoke machine. Since then, Hogan has entertained them with renditions of Johnny Cash songs.
Hogan had to sell his candidacy to his family before he could sell it Marylanders, and over the holidays last year the Hogans had a family discussion about what they would likely face in an election year.
"He's been successful in his business. Although he's a Republican, his friends and even in our family, we're not all Republican," Sterling said.
Yumi Hogan declined to comment for this story through Hogan's spokeswoman, Erin Montgomery.
Hogan's half-brother, Del. Patrick Hogan, R-Frederick County, was not reachable for comment.
A Campaign to Control State Spending
A perusal of Hogan's campaign website shows lofty promises but sparse detail: cut $1.7 billion in waste, fraud and abuse from state government; roll back taxes without cutting government priorities; change Maryland's reputation as a state that is unfriendly to businesses.
"I think a lack of detail is emblematic of the seat-of-the-pants campaign he's running," said Josh Kurtz, columnist for the Center Maryland blog (www.centermaryland.org).
Part of Hogan's $1.7 billion in proposed savings was gleaned from a 2013 state audit of the Board of Public Works Interagency Committee on School Construction. The auditors were unable to identify final funding and completion for 126 school-construction projects, totaling $450 million.
However, the Baltimore Sun later reported that the auditors' report included a response from the committee that the status of the projects had been determined prior to the release of the audit.
Democrats are touting the error, suggesting that Hogan plans to cut $450 million from school construction funding.
The editorial boards of the area's two major newspapers, The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun, endorsed his opponent and have been critical of his policy proposals.
However, he has enjoyed endorsements from several other publications, including the Washington Times, the Capital Gazette and the St. Mary's Enterprise, among others.
Brown's attack ads on social issues, which are largely absent from Hogan's playbook, continue relentlessly, painting Hogan as an extreme Republican looking to overturn gun restrictions and women's access to abortion.
Jaymi Sterling became the face of Hogan's women's campaign in a TV ad after Brown began charging that Hogan would restrict access to abortion. Hogan insists he would not seek to change current Maryland abortion laws.
"Because it is a blue state, Brown is trying to label Hogan as a really right-wing conservative, which is only half true. Most of those views were expressed by Hogan years and years ago," Crenson said.
"Unlike any Republican in recent memory, he's been able to avoid the pitfalls of social issues. He's been unafraid to say that he won't touch existing law," said Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary's College of Maryland. "He's basically saying, vote for me and I'll be a financial manager for the state."
Despite Hogan's insistence that he has no plans to weaken the Firearm Safety Act passed by the legislature in 2013, outside groups and Hogan's own actions have not helped.
He received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and he has not released an NRA questionnaire that earned him an A-minus grade from the gun-rights advocacy group.
Brown's campaign seized on this strong support and has launched a series of ads and emails, calling Hogan's agenda dangerous and calling on him to release the questionnaire.
The point, however, is mostly moot.
Hogan, even if he wanted to, would have almost no chance in passing socially conservative Republican bills in a Democratic legislature.
But he would control the budget.
"What people don't understand, constitutionally, we have the strongest governor in the nation," said Blair Lee IV, a longtime political commentator.
Lee added that the governor sets the budget but the legislature can only lower spending, not increase it.
More importantly, a Maryland governor can veto any tax increases and the legislature's Democratic majority is not big enough to override it, Lee said.
"By electing a Republican governor, voters can guarantee that we will have no new taxes for four years," Lee added.
This is exactly the point that Hogan hopes will get him across the line as he delivers an economic message of tax cuts and an improved job market to every corner of the state in a large Hogan/Rutherford bus.
"Being on the bus with Larry? I mean, Larry's fine. Larry doesn't get too grumpy," Rutherford said, laughing, moments before getting on the bus last week to make his way to the next campaign stop.
The bus, which Hogan owns, is not without its own controversy, drawing the ire of Democratic operators who filed a campaign finance complaint accusing him of under-reporting the operational cost of the vehicle.
Until the issue is resolved by the State Board of Elections, the bus continues to roll across the state's highways.