Maryland’s moribund Republican Party is holding a primary for governor next month, though voters might be excused for not noticing. Even compared with the lackluster Democratic contest, the GOP race is a low-key affair, featuring anemically financed conservatives who are struggling to convey this message: Maryland has been laid low by the Democratic establishment in Annapolis, which in eight years under Gov. Martin O’Malley has taxed the life out of the state’s economy, leaving Virginia to claim the spoils.

It’s reasonable to question the proposition that Maryland’s economy is utterly supine, while still hoping for a genuine contest of ideas this fall. The Republican most likely to offer voters a plausible alternative is Larry Hogan, a businessman who served as appointments secretary under former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, the state’s only GOP chief executive in the past 45 years.

Hogan, a genial Anne Arundel real estate broker whose father was a congressman in the 1970s, has distinguished himself from his main primary rivals by toning down the anti-tax brimstone and acknowledging the reality that Maryland is not Texas, and a Republican governor will have to meet Democratic lawmakers in some conciliatory middle ground.

He would seek spending cuts — ill-defined so far — by scouring agencies for what he calls small-ticket inefficiencies already identified in scores of audits. While he’s vague about the targets of spending trims, he’s also cautious not to overpromise: A 5 percent reduction in state spending, he says accurately, would be a major achievement. And commensurate tax cuts might start to repair the state’s business climate, which even Democrats acknowledge needs improvement.

The Democrats’ overwhelming dominance of state politics in Maryland does not serve voters’ interests. It invites bloat, complacency and corruption. By positioning himself to the left of the GOP’s bomb-throwers, Hogan offers the best hope for a real race in November.

The Washington Post (May 22)