Odd Couple Finds Common Ground as Dems Prepare Fresh Sick Leave Attack
By Josh Kurtz
As Democrats prepare a new round of attacks on Gov. Larry Hogan (R) over his decision to veto their earned sick leave bill this year, the governor says on a podcast released Wednesday that he still hopes to find common ground with lawmakers in the upcoming General Assembly session.
“It’s not like we’re from opposite planets,” Hogan said of his differences with legislative Democrats on how to offer paid sick leave benefits to Marylanders.
Hogan was speaking on a podcast hosted by Heather Mizeur, the erstwhile state lawmaker and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial contender. The wide-ranging discussion, recorded in Government House a few weeks earlier, touched on a variety of issues – including gerrymandering, fracking, the opioid crisis, political civility, what it’s like to live in the governor’s mansion, and Hogan’s battle with cancer.
Hogan also teased Mizeur for leading a drum circle in protest of the proposed Dakota Access oil pipeline in front of Government House last year.
“Do I have a vote on that?” he asked. “I think that’s a different house.”
In her conversation with the governor, Mizeur, who launched the podcast as part of her new, multi-faceted nonprofit venture, MizMaryland/Soul Force Politics, was half-interviewer, half-debating partner. The two agreed on almost everything – except how to best mandate sick leave benefits for Maryland workers.
Hogan’s more limited proposal on sick leave got nowhere in the legislature this year, and he vetoed the Democrats’ more expansive bill, expressing fears that its mandates would harm small businesses. Hogan said he would put together a task force to examine the issue and recommend a new proposal for the legislature to consider in 2018.
Democrats have scheduled a telephone news conference for Thursday and are expected to slam Hogan for the composition of the task force and its work. Scheduled to speak are Del. Luke Clippinger (D), the prime sponsor of the sick leave bill, Senate Finance Chairman Mac Middleton (D), whose committee has jurisdiction over the issue, and Maryland Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews.
But Hogan appeared to extend an olive branch in his conversation with Mizeur.
“We do still have time and I am willing to continue to work,” he said. “I said that during the veto. The door is still open. We want to solve it. We agree on the end game. The question is, how do we get there? Hopefully, and I’m an optimistic, positive-thinking kind of guy, we can find a solution.”
Yet Hogan also seemed prepared for the legislature to override his veto. Earlier this week, a coalition supporting the Democrats’ sick leave legislation said it had 87 commitments from House members to override the veto in January, two more than needed.
“Earned paid sick leave has gathered widespread support across Maryland,” said Caryn York, executive director of JOTF, an organization in the Working Matters coalition. “Legislators have heard our message and understand that it’s time to place working families at the forefront. We are counting on them to override the Governor’s veto.”
Advocates said they hope to soon be able to announce that they have secured enough pledges from senators to override the veto as well.
“When the legislature gets back in January, they could just override the veto and pass this,” Hogan told Mizeur. “That might make you happy and some advocates. It might then cause a bunch of people to lose their jobs. I don’t know. I hope we can find a better solution before that happens.”
During their conversation, Mizeur asked Hogan to research how sick leave mandates are working in the jurisdictions where they’ve been adopted, and Hogan asked Mizeur to talk to small business owners to gauge their true feelings on sick leave.
Hogan joked that if Mizeur were still serving in Annapolis, he’d have a Democrat willing to talk to him about the issue.
“We can disagree without calling each other names or disagreeing in the press or being negative,” Mizeur agreed.