The Republican presidential candidates continue to advocate smaller government and less spending. But will such messages resonate in Maryland, a state that has benefited from its proximity to the federal government?
That is one of the issues Maryland voters will grapple with in Tuesday’s primary.
Odds are very good that in any audience the GOP candidates address in the new few days, there will be more than a few people who depend on government for their livelihoods or their business.
The fact is, 503,000 Marylanders hold local, state and federal government jobs, according to March statistics from the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. That accounts for roughly one in five jobs in the state.
In addition, the federal government alone spent $15,834 per person in Maryland in fiscal 2014 – 27.5 percent of the state’s total economic output, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study released in March. Only Virginia receives more federal dollars per person.
“The fact that we are so close to D.C. (means) federal employment is a lot of our economic engine, whether you look at government services or contracts,” said Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties. “It works well when the economy is doing well, but when there are cutbacks in D.C. and we are overly reliant on those jobs, it hurts the Maryland economy.”
Government employment acts as a cushion for the Maryland economy. Consider this: during the recession, the state unemployment rate peaked at 9.8 percent in early 2010, according to data from the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
However, one sector barely was affected by the economic turmoil: government jobs.
Republican businessman Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all would change the financial landscape of Maryland, making the government less present in the daily lives of Marylanders and likely decreasing federal job opportunities.
For example, one section of Cruz’s campaign website is bannered by this quote from the senator: “We should shrink the size and power of the federal government by every and any means possible. What does that mean? That means eliminating unnecessary or unconstitutional agencies.”
Faith Loudon, of Pasadena, Md., who is running to be a delegate for Cruz, echoed her candidate’s anti-government ideology. Cruz’s desire to reign in government spending and introduce a 10 percent flat tax for all taxpayers will spur job economic growth, Loudon said.
“There is too much government and (Cruz) wants to cut down on the agencies,” she said. “His flat tax is a great idea as well. We need less government because it hurts our businesses.”
Cruz was a key figure in the 16-day federal government shutdown in 2013.
Kasich has a similar, if not more anti-government view. In January 2015, Kasich said, “There’s no money in Washington. It’s my money.” At a rally last month, he added: “When government doesn’t change at the speed of business, we ring up $19 trillion in debt.” In a November interview with NBC News, the former House Budget Committee chairman said, “There’s nobody who’s spent more time shrinking government and cutting budgets than I have.”
Kasich’s cuts would include major tax breaks for businesses and major reductions in government spending according to an article by The Huffington Post.
In a February debate, Trump promised to “cut so much, your head will spin,” including eliminating the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, to decrease the national debt.
Cruz has been more specific, including not only the Department of Education, but also the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development and the Internal Revenue Service on his hit list.
Some Maryland residents, however, have a much less dismal view of government, including Garwai Young, a 23-year-old Democrat who supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“You trust government as much as you want to put trust in it,” Young said. “It should intervene when necessary, but we have to put faith in (government officials) that they will make the right decisions.”
The anti-government theme is not unique to this year’s GOP presidential hopefuls. Shrinking government and spending has been a mantra of Republicans in Congress for years.
In 1979, when Georgia Republican Newt Gingrich first entered the House, he had an agenda much like the candidates today: to combat government spending. To do that, he first had to win GOP control of Congress.
Gingrich succeeded: his party secured a House majority in the 1994 elections. But the takeover would not be without repercussions for the Republican establishment and future elections.
“He wanted them to throw the ‘in’ party out and bring the ‘out’ party in,” Norman Ornstein, a longtime congressional observer with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in The Atlantic in January, referring to Gingrich. “That meant a long campaign to delegitimize Congress, politics, and politicians.”
Analysts argue that the Republican push against government has resonated with GOP voters across the country in recent election cycles.
“The more Tea Party activists in a district, the better Republican candidates did (in 2010) and the more likely Republican representatives were to vote with the Tea Party on issues salient to the movement,” Michael Bailey, professor of American government at Georgetown University, observed in a 2012 article for American Politics Research.
Anti-government Republicans have been backed by a base of party voters that, according to many polls, is far more angry and frustrated at the federal government than are Democratic voters.
A Pew Research Center poll last November found 8 out of 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favoring a smaller government that does less. Just 31 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents shared that view.
But in Maryland, polling data has revealed that while there is concern among voters regarding spending, most residents support the Democrats’ views of an activist government that provides a broad array of services and tries to address major social issues:
• Eighty-one percent of Marylanders supported having handgun licensing, fingerprinting and background checks, according to a Maryland Registered Voter Poll conducted by Opinion Works in 2013.
• Sixty-seven percent of Marylanders support increasing taxes on cigarettes and another 54 percent favored eliminating mandatory minimum jail sentences, according to a Gonzales Research and Marketing survey released on March 8.
• Forty-eight percent of Maryland residents approve of the way Democrats in the Maryland legislature are doing their jobs according to a Washington Post poll released April 3.
• Eighty-one percent of Marylanders support sending those convicted of possessing illegal drugs to treatment programs instead of prison, according to the same April 3 Washington Post poll.
• Sixty-one percent of Marylanders approve of Gov. Larry Hogan; 50 percent think he isn’t a “typical Republican,” and another 45 percent think that is “a good thing,” according to a different Washington Post poll released on Oct. 15.
Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, said it’s hard to gauge the public’s attitude about local government, as most people don’t follow it unless a certain issue pops up, like ceasing the renovation of a school. But you can sense that anti-government tension when dealing with the presidential candidates, he said.
“People who want to essentially build on what exists are having a very hard time to establish themselves and make themselves visible as a candidate with the level of anger and discomfort from the less comfortable voters,” Nataf said.
By JOSH MAGNESS, REBECCA RAINEY and ALANA PEDALINO
(CNS reporter Connor Glowacki contributed to this report.)