ANNAPOLIS — Maryland senators say Gov. Larry Hogan’s moves to withdraw Cabinet nominees before a Senate confirmation vote bypass the state constitution and set a dangerous political precedent.
In the most recent wrinkle, Hogan (R) withdrew his nomination of Dennis R. Schrader as secretary of health and mental hygiene. At the same time, Hogan announced his intention to keep Schrader in the position and start the confirmation process anew next General Assembly session.
“This is unprecedented,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore city, chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee. “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.”
It is the second showdown over a Cabinet secretary position this General Assembly session.
Last month, the governor withdrew his nomination for planning secretary, Wendi Peters, 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.
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funding for Hogan nominees who were put forward this session but did not receive confirmation votes because they were withdrawn from consideration.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 at the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.
Asked Tuesday how the budget language would affect a renomination, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said, “We heavily question whether that language would hold up to a legal challenge.”
Because the amendment is included in the state budget bill, it is effective for only one year. To permanently clarify the state’s language on withdrawing executive nominees before an unfavorable vote, a constitutional amendment may be required.
Ferguson said earlier this session that the budget language was included to ensure that the will of the Senate’s function to “advise and consent” on certain executive appointments was not usurped. Nominating and withdrawing appointments only to reappoint someone after the General Assembly’s 90-day session is seen as an end run around the confirmation process.
“I am deeply, deeply concerned. I never thought this was possible for the great state of Maryland and I really, sincerely hope that the administration reconsiders this approach,” he told colleagues on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.
Ferguson said the governor’s action is equivalent to President Donald Trump (R) appointing Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court without confirmation from the U.S. Senate.
Chasse said Schrader’s nomination was withdrawn because the governor’s office believed he would not get a vote this session, which concludes Monday at midnight.
“The governor felt that this was too important of a position to leave at the mercy of political whims and decided to withdraw Secretary Schrader and reappoint him to the position and hope that cooler heads will prevail and we can move on with the confirmation process in the next session,” Chasse said.
The continuation in acting secretary positions for Peters and Schrader leads to some of the same constitutional questions, but under different circumstances.
Schrader was withdrawn before a committee vote, and senators, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), said they believed he would get a favorable vote by the end of session, were it not for the withdrawal. Peters’ nomination was withdrawn after the committee voted to recommend that she not be confirmed by the full chamber.
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 said Peters can continue in her current appointment until the end of the General Assembly session.
“She, by law, serves until the end of session. We will be making decisions and disclosing personnel moves at that time,” Chasse said.
Peters previously served as Maryland’s deputy planning secretary and on Mount Airy’s Town Council, Board of Appeals, and Planning Commission.