Larry Hogan On The Parallels Of Fighting Cancer And Maryland's Coronavirus Outbreak

Jul 25, 2020
Originally published on July 25, 2020 3:02 pm

Larry Hogan defeated non-Hodgkin's lymphoma five years ago, a fight that he says has colored many of his decisions as the Republican governor of Maryland, from criticizing President Trump to navigating the coronavirus pandemic.

"It changed me as a person and the way I look at life and what's important. And maybe that's one of the reasons I'm not afraid to stand up and say what I think," Hogan told NPR's All Things Considered. "Cancer is pretty scary. Nothing else really is going to scare me away from anything."

Maryland is currently experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases and has seen more than 83,000 cases and 3,300 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the state's database. And cases are increasing. On Saturday, the state had 1,288 new cases, the largest single-day increase since May 19, according to The Baltimore Sun.

"I do have a lot of empathy for people going through those kinds of things," Hogan said, adding that while his experience governing during the pandemic has differed greatly from his personal experience fighting cancer, there are parallels between the two. "It perhaps made me more intensely focused on trying to protect the health of everybody. It probably didn't just impact my decisions on the coronavirus, but probably everything I do as a governor."

Hogan recently had his five-year checkup and he remains cancer-free. "When the pandemic's over, I can go back and hug some people," he said.

But he still has to deal with a climbing health crisis in his state. Despite the increase in cases, Hogan said Tuesday that he will not change the state's reopening plan now, but added that he would consider doing so in the future if rates of deaths, new infections and hospitalizations continue to rise, The Washington Post reported.

"But as soon as we start to see numbers that don't look good, it's going to cause us to take whatever actions that are necessary," he said on C-SPAN on Tuesday. "My goal is to try to keep the economy safely open, because the economic crisis is nearly as bad as or just as bad as the health crisis."

Hogan dives into the pandemic, his cancer diagnosis, the protests for racial justice that flooded his state following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody and working in politics in 2020 in his book Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic, and the Toxic Politics that Divide America out Tuesday.

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We've spent a lot of time on this program talking about the choices leaders are having to make during this difficult moment - open schools or not, open restaurants or not. We're going to turn our attention now to hear about the choices being made by Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland. A Republican, he's been elected twice in overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland, and he's gotten a lot of attention for his willingness to criticize President Trump and go on his own way occasionally, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic.

That might be because many of the major issues President Trump is facing now - a health crisis, unrest in the streets set off by fury over police conduct - Governor Hogan faced first. Just a few months into his first term as governor, Maryland's largest city, Baltimore, faced massive protests, including violent ones, over the death of Freddie Gray after an encounter with police. And then Governor Hogan was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

He writes about this in a new book called "Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, A Global Pandemic, And The Toxic Politics That Divide America." And Governor Hogan is with us now to tell us more about it.

Welcome, Governor. Thank you so much for joining us.

LARRY HOGAN: Michel, thank you very much for having me.

MARTIN: You know, a lot of people nationally may see you as the Republican who's willing to square off against President Trump from time to time. But how do you see yourself?

HOGAN: You know, I've always been someone that is not afraid to stand up and say exactly what I think. Many Republicans do not feel comfortable standing up and disagreeing with the president. But I've - in many cases, especially in my - now my role as chairman of the National Governors Association, I feel, you know, I've had to stand up and speak out on things where I thought that the president was in the wrong or where they weren't taking actions that I thought needed to be taken.

So I really try not to be involved in divisive politics or to start - you know, pick fights unnecessarily. But I do, you know, stand up when I think it's something that warrants it.

MARTIN: It is interesting, though - your political career does track with Trump's in the sense that you were both in real estate. You were both outsiders. This is your first elected office. Neither of you was expected to win in your first race. Of course, you did grow up around politics. So - but you have some similarities, and I was just wondering, do you feel that gives you some insight into how the president thinks?

HOGAN: Yeah. No, it's an interesting point. I was fed up and frustrated with politics. I was an outsider who was saying we really needed to change direction. I was kind of swept in on a wave of populism. And so we're both from business backgrounds in the real estate industry, and so there are those similarities. But that's about where it stops. You know, if you - just as far as personality and tone, we probably couldn't be more different.

MARTIN: I want to talk about the themes that you've highlighted in the book. I mean, let's start with the riots, right, after Freddie Gray died in police custody or after having been taken into custody. You moved the state government from Annapolis to Baltimore and basically set up shop there. And you did deploy state troopers and the National Guard in Baltimore.

But I want to highlight the fact that you made a point of making that announcement with the mayor - the then-mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. So how do you respond to President Trump's decision to send in federal law enforcement officers to cities throughout the country? In most of these cases, they're saying they don't want them.

HOGAN: Yeah. And I - you know, I think - there've been peaceful protests all across the country. But in some of these cities, it's not just peaceful protest. I mean, we are seeing now almost 60 days of violence and destruction and property being burned and looted, and some people are getting injured. And so I think it's the responsibility of the mayors to kind of get control of those violent situations, similar to what we did in 2015 - allow the peaceful protests, protect them, protect the neighbors and the citizens and those business owners in those communities without inflaming the situation.

And if they can't handle it by themselves, they should reach out to the state. The state has that responsibility. The governor should come in and help the cities. And if they can't do it, they ought to call up that state's National Guard if necessary. But I'd never envision the thought that federal law enforcement officials would have to come into cities like that. And...

MARTIN: Well, but...

HOGAN: ...The opposite of...

MARTIN: OK - excuse me, Governor...

HOGAN: ...What we...

MARTIN: They have to is different than what I just asked you, though. They have to - the governors - look. I just talked to the governor of Oregon, and she...


MARTIN: ...Says, I don't want these people here.

HOGAN: Yeah.


HOGAN: I don't know what - how the decisions were made. I don't - I'm not sure it's a good idea. But I know that the governor of Oregon and the mayor of Portland - there's an awful lot of people that do want them to get the violence under control, and they probably ought to - I think they should be able to do it without the federal law enforcement folks coming in. And I think they ought to read the book...


HOGAN: ...And see how we did it together with the city of Baltimore in 2015 because it's actually a textbook of how you should do it without inflaming the situation, without raising the temperatures and to bring peace and law and order to the city without - and allowing the protests to continue and without, you know, the things that are happening now.

MARTIN: And you do talk about wanting to change the tone. I mean, you've talked about the fact that you think the president would be more successful if he adjusted his tone. But, you know, this is a classic political memoir, and I assume you wrote it in part because you are considering a run in 2024.

But you do still take shots at people in your book. I mean, you called Freddie Gray a Crips-affiliated gang member. There's no evidence of that. You make a point of pointing out the failings of people you still have to work with, members of the congressional delegation. If you're going to change the tone, why not really change it?

HOGAN: Well, you know, first of all, I wasn't taking a shot at Freddie Gray. I was giving my factual account of being there in the room. So it's not something that was talked about in the media much, but I can tell you, it is a factual account that was just left out. And that's why the book is interesting - because there are things in there that people don't know and to try to fill out the rest of the story.

But I talk about that's no excuse whatsoever for any mistreatment of Freddie Gray, and it's tragic that the justice system failed to ever come up with any conclusion as to what happened. But - and I don't think I take any shots at any existing members of Congress. But I...

MARTIN: Oh, Anthony Brown.

HOGAN: I'm pretty honest about the - I am pretty direct about the stories, and I don't think there's anything I wouldn't continue to say to somebody's face.


HOGAN: As I said at the beginning of the conversation, I tell it like it is, whether it's the president or whether it's anybody else. But I don't go out of my way to criticize anybody unnecessarily ever.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, you write about your battle with cancer. And it was actually very moving to read because - to find out how you found out. And it just must have been shocking. And I do wonder whether your health crisis has kind of deepened your understanding, or at least the way you are dealing with the fact that now the whole world is dealing with a health crisis. I wonder if it's changed the way you've - you're thinking about the current moment.

HOGAN: It has changed me as a person and the way I look at life and what's important. And maybe that's one of the reasons I'm not afraid to stand up and say what I think. I mean, cancer's pretty scary. Nothing else really, you know, is going to scare me away from anything. And standing up to Trump isn't going to scare me, right? It's not going to be that tough. But I do have a lot of empathy for people that are going through those kinds of things.

During this pandemic, it was different. I'm not just worried about me or my family or even just, you know, the folks that I'm close to. I was worried about all 6 million people in my state. So it perhaps made me more intensely focused on trying to protect the health of everybody. But yeah, I mean, it probably didn't just impact my decisions on the coronavirus but probably everything I do as governor.

MARTIN: Larry Hogan is the governor of Maryland. His new book, "Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, A Global Pandemic, And The Toxic Politics That Divide America," is out Tuesday.

Governor Hogan, thank you so much for talking to us today.

HOGAN: Michel, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.