Hogan's slippery paid sick leave veto needs imaginative, flexible response

Larry Hogan's slippery veto of the paid sick leave bill illustrates the broad front on which progressive strategy needs to operate for 2018 and beyond.

/PM BlogSpace Report/ On Thursday, Larry Hogan delivered his long-threatened veto of HB1, the Healthy Working Families Act that would provide paid sick leave to 700,000 now-uncovered Marylanders.

The response from Working Matters, the coalition of progressive groups that has worked five-plus years to get the Assembly to pass paid sick leave: “It’s on.”

“On” it is.

Progressive Maryland has been a member of that coalition from the get-go. Hogan has put his veto in a clever, potentially crowd-pleasing package that, as veteran blogger Josh Kurtz observed, allowed him a Houdini-like escape hatch from the rawest human edges of the veto. The pushback from progressives will need to be equally flexible and imaginative – and fired up.

Progressive Maryland’s Justin Vest said:

“A lot of people are ‘disappointed’ that Hogan vetoed paid sick leave. Well that's not good enough. This isn't just a political setback to be rectified with a veto override in the next legislative session. This has real world consequences for a lot of workers…. It should never have taken this long for paid sick leave to pass with a Democratic supermajority. But party leadership decided time and again that human lives are less important than businesses' convenience. It’s time to stop hoping out-of-touch politicians will do right by working families. Instead we need people who know the struggles of everyday people, and have their own, to be the ones fighting for us in the halls of power -- progressives who ignore the ‘political realities’ to forge into new ground and achieve a radical vision of a better world.”

At this point Hogan is faced with veto-proof majorities in favor of the bill in both chambers of the Assembly. His diversionary package – principally a “study commission” to develop an alternative bill that the Assembly can adopt as emergency legislation next January – is designed to peel off some of the override vote count, especially among Democrats who may feel vulnerable to charges of being “anti-business” in the 2018 election.

Michael Dresser, in the Sun, says the executive order sets up commission “drawing on the views of a wide variety of groups, including advocates of the legislature's bill.” Alas the order does no such thing, confining participants to Hogan’s willing agency flunkies (“Executive Council”). The Guv is seeking a “do-over” from his commission without reference to the Assembly’s final product, which was hammered out over five grueling years, including five excruciating passes through the business-dominated House Economic Matters Committee.

The Guv also brandished a pilot program of sorts, extending by executive order minimal sick leave benefits to about 8,000 temporary workers for the executive branch. His half-a-loaf move and cries for a bipartisan solution cut no ice with legislators like Sen. Mac Middleton of Charles County, who by the Sun’s account “said the administration repeatedly refused to meet with lawmakers to work out a compromise this year. Now Middleton has no interest in a task force.”

The interests that are being catered to here are not actually those of independent small businesses, many of which saw paid sick leave as a playing-field leveler allowing them to treat their employees the way they wanted without being swamped by rapacious corporate interests. It was instead the corporate lobbyists that had Hogan’s ear. “The Governor has … turned his back on Maryland businesses, who could have had eight months to implement this smart policy, which will reduce turnover and enhance the health of their workplace,” said the veto response from Liz Smith of Working Matters. “Instead, the Governor has caved to interests of the corporate lobby and turned his back on working Marylanders.”

And the interests being totally left out are the poor and working-class families where the unavailability of sick leave hits hardest. It is no accident that corporate forces, for whom workers are replaceable units not colleagues, find that not having publicly mandated sick leave enables them to enforce “workplace discipline” (that is, employer terrorism), keeping wages and benefits down and strengthening their hand against union organizing.

Progressive Maryland’s call for action against Hogan makes the clear comparison: “Hogan has repeatedly tried to distance himself from Donald Trump and national Republicans, but his actions speak louder than words. By vetoing paid sick leave legislation, he shows he is just as calloused as Trump and the Republicans trying to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans.” 

As the Progressive Maryland appeal also makes clear, the opponent here is not just Larry Hogan – who must be defeated in 2018 – but the generally pro-business character of elected officials around the state. Not only Hogan but those legislators who resist the clearly needed progressive changes in Maryland and the nation need to be replaced. And it takes a popular movement, not politics as usual, to do that.