Undeterred by an unfavorable committee vote and budget language targeting Maryland Planning Secretary Wendi Peters’ paycheck come July 1, Gov. Larry Hogan reappointed her this week.
Hogan (R) said earlier this spring that his office would make a final announcement on Peters’ role in the administration at the close of the General Assembly’s 90-day session.
Last month, the governor withdrew his nomination of Peters, who is from Mount Airy, after she received an unfavorable vote from the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. Senators then learned that Peters remained in the position at the Maryland Department of Planning, despite the committee’s vote and the likelihood that she would receive a negative vote from the full chamber.
On Wednesday, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse confirmed that the governor’s office had reappointed Peters and the state’s health secretary, Dennis Schrader. Hogan also pulled Schrader’s nomination this session after he had not received a confirmation vote by early April.
In response, the Senate amended the state budget to strip funding for Hogan nominees who were put forward this session but did not receive confirmation votes because they were withdrawn from consideration. The budget would stop the salaries for Peters and Schrader at the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.
The governor’s office said Wednesday that the budget language was not a concern.
“The language they smuggled into the budget is unconstitutional and they know it,” Chasse said in a written statement.
But senators felt the budget move was necessary to cement their constitutional role of providing advice and consent on gubernatorial nominations. It was made after consultation from the Office of the Attorney General, which recrafted previous budget language to apply to Peters at the time, and now to Schrader, as well.
Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore city, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, said during the General Assembly session that the governor’s choice to pull the Cabinet secretaries, then reappoint them, amounted to a constitutionally murky end run around the Senate.
The Maryland Constitution states: “No person, after being rejected by the Senate, shall be again nominated for the same office at the same Session, unless at the request of the Senate; or, be appointed to the same office during the recess of the Legislature.”
But because Hogan took action when he did — after a committee vote on Peters but before final action by the full Senate chamber — the governor might have cover for his decision to reappoint.
“Nothing prevents the Governor from choosing as his recess appointee the person whose nomination had been submitted but then withdrawn,” the letter to Ferguson states.
Nevertheless, it was an unusual move, Ferguson said.
“This is unprecedented,” Ferguson said in early April. “We have not, in the long history of Maryland, had a situation where the role and duty — the constitutional duty entrusted in us by the people of Maryland — has been bypassed.”
Committee members said they voted against Peters’ nomination after hearing concerns of low morale and micromanagement in the planning office, along with complaints that the state’s previous planning priorities have been put on the back burner. The governor’s office said the unfavorable vote was a “shameful” example of partisan politics.
Chasse reiterated that point on Wednesday.
“For three months members of the legislature played partisan games with Secretary Peters, and she is too qualified for this position to be subject to the whims of partisan politicians,” she said.
Ferguson said he has requested an additional advice letter from the Office of the Attorney General to explore options moving forward.
He said the uncertainty related to the constitutionality of the reappointments puts the state in a precarious position.
“What really scares me ... I believe that these are unconstitutional reappointments. It sort of puts in jeopardy any official actions they take on behalf of the state,” he said.
The new letter will address who would have legal standing to file legal action relating to the appointments — if it comes to that.
“We are exploring every possibility,” Ferguson said.