Hoyer vs. Hogan

September 26, 1992

Are voters still angry enough at Congress to exchange one of the most powerful men on Capitol Hill for a political neophyte? The race for Maryland's newly redrawn Fifth Congressional District promises to be a useful gauge for determining if hostility toward incumbents has abated since the House check-bouncing scandal, or if it continues to be a force.

Ordinarily, Republican Larry Hogan Jr. wouldn't stand a chance against Rep. Steny Hoyer. But the reaction against incumbents has made Mr. Hoyer -- the fourth-highest ranking member of his party's leadership and the quintessential "slick" politician -- vulnerable. His new district, including Southern Maryland and large pieces of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, doesn't help him, either. The region is more conservative and Republican than the one that has elected the liberal Mr. Hoyer since 1981.

Mr. Hogan, an Upper Marlboro Realtor and son of former Maryland congressman and Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, is capitalizing on the fact that the anti-incumbent mood in the country has turned what normally would be liabilities into assets: his lack of political experience, relative shortage of campaign money and absence of political connections.

But while the anti-incumbent factor has made the Hoyer-Hogan contest a real race, it is unclear how it will affect the outcome. Has the intense anger toward politicians that started building before the 1990 elections peaked? What effect will the presidential race have on local congressional contests? Certainly the Bush-Quayle campaign has not been as visible in Maryland as the Clinton-Gore operation, a fact that hurts Mr. Hogan. And the president's low popularity may be a sign that the electorate is fixing all of its anger on him.

In the end, length of service should have little to do with how voters decide. What matters is not how long Mr. Hoyer has been a congressman, but what kind of congressman he has been. Has he treated taxpayers' money with respect? Has he used his power and connections to better serve his district, or for personal gain? Has he used his influence as a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee to bring money home for needed projects, or has he used it to play pork-barrel politics?

When people lose faith in their leaders, they tend to reason that anyone else would be an improvement. That's not necessarily true. Mr. Hogan should not be elected on that basis. Before voters use this race as a means of venting their spleen against all incumbents who have failed them, they must make sure Mr. Hoyer is one of them, and that Mr. Hogan deserves to take his place.

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