Election board pick a shock to Democrats

Ehrlich's nominee breaks agreement, legislators say

July 09, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named former state elections chief Gene Raynor to the State Board of Elections yesterday, an appointment that portends a management shake-up at the agency and has angered Democratic legislative leaders who say they were blindsided by the pick.

Raynor, 69, a Democrat and close associate of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, oversaw elections in Baltimore and throughout Maryland for decades before his retirement as state administrator in 1997.

"I am happy to be back in public service," Raynor said in an interview yesterday. "I think that I could be a benefit to the citizens of Maryland. I know a lot about elections. It's all I have ever done."

But Raynor's nomination to the pivotal, if obscure, position stunned legislative leaders who accused Ehrlich, a Republican, of violating an agreement brokered several months ago.

Under the deal, they said, Democratic senators would be allowed to select the two Democratic members of the five-member state board. In exchange, the Senate spiked a bill that would have given it authority to approve or disapprove of the selection of the board's administrator.

Political divisions

Ehrlich has repeatedly said he wants to replace administrator Linda H. Lamone, a holdover from former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Democrats have resisted a change in administrators in a stand-off that illustrates the importance of control of state elections apparati in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

But that ouster now becomes more likely. Raynor has publicly criticized Lamone, and is expected to provide the fourth and final vote needed to fire her if board members settle on an acceptable legal reason for removal.

Because Ehrlich won the 2002 election, the Republican Party now holds a majority on both state and local election boards, a little-noticed benefit that accompanies the state's first Republican chief executive in nearly four decades.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called Raynor's selection an "affront" to the state's African-American community, because he is replacing a black female board member from Prince George's County, Bobbi S. Mack, who was appointed to serve out another member's term just three months ago as part of the deal with the governor.

Miller and others said they assumed Mack would be reappointed. She is an ally of Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Prince George's County Democrat and chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

"It's offensive not only to the African-American community, but to all those who participated in the previous discussions," Miller said. "It's a shot across the bow."

Miller indicated that Raynor could suffer the same fate as Lynn Buhl, Ehrlich's environmental secretary nominee who last year, after an intense partisan battle, became the first gubernatorial appointment rejected by the Senate in modern times.

"It's going to make the Lynn Buhl situation look small by comparison," he said.

Criticism on both sides

Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel County Democrat and chairman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, which will vote on Raynor's selection early next year, said he was "shocked and saddened" by the Raynor choice. "At a time when we should be coming together, this divides the executive and legislative branches unnecessarily," Jimeno said.

But the Ehrlich administration appears willing to incur the wrath of Miller and other leaders and replace Lamone, who has weathered criticism in the past year over the state's decision to buy controversial touch-screen electronic voting machines for this year's election.

Under state law, the administrator can be replaced by "the affirmative vote of four members of the state board for incompetence, misconduct or other good cause." Raynor is Ehrlich's fourth appointment to the board.

In an interview last year, Raynor told The Sun that Lamone should be ousted. "Linda Lamone is as political an animal as you can get," he said. "Ehrlich should throw her out on her ear."

Raynor repeated that criticism yesterday but said he was willing to listen to the views of other board members. "If they don't want to talk about her, that's perfectly fine by me," he said. "I'm not prejudging her, or her whole performance."

Ehrlich officials said the nomination of Raynor should be above reproach, given his deep background.

"This isn't about Linda Lamone. It's about a vacancy on the Maryland State Board of Elections. And no one is more qualified to fill the position than Gene Raynor," said Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman who said she had no knowledge of the previous agreement with lawmakers.

Raynor managed Schaefer's campaigns for comptroller in 1998 and 2002.

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