Senate opens way for appointees

Move comes as contested nominee resigns

fate unclear for elections bill

April 02, 2005|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A private discussion between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller appears to have cracked a stalemate blocking more than 100 of the governor's appointments to boards and commissions.

But the talks did nothing to resolve a larger issue of control over the state elections system, a dispute that created the standoff in the first place. A bill passed by the General Assembly yesterday -- and facing a potential veto from Ehrlich -- would change the way elections board members are selected, removing power from the governor.

Under the agreement between Ehrlich and Miller, which the Senate president discussed yesterday, the Republican governor withdrew the name of a contentious Democratic appointee to the elections panel who had not been vetted by party leaders.

The nominee, former Del. Frank Boston, a Baltimore Democrat, announced yesterday that he was resigning from the five-member board after serving several months pending Senate confirmation.

In exchange, Miller said, the Senate executive nominations committee has scheduled a hearing Monday on R. Karl Aumann, the secretary of state and longtime Ehrlich aide who is the governor's pick for the workers' compensation commission -- but who had been opposed by Miller. After that hearing, the committee is expected to vote on scores of nominees Miller placed on "permanent hold" more than two weeks ago, a move that escalated tensions during an already fractious General Assembly session.

Among the nominees who have been held up because of the disagreement are former Sen. Francis X. Kelly, named to the university system Board of Regents; Ehrlich intergovernmental affairs chief Karen A. Smith, a pick for the Public Service Commission; and state prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh.

Miller held up the nominees because of Democratic objections to some of the elections board appointments.

Under state law, two of five spots are designated for the party that does not control the governorship. Democrats have accused Ehrlich of appointing Democratic nominees who will do the governor's bidding and assist in steering control of the state's elections apparatus to Republicans. With Boston's resignation, no Democrats currently are on the panel.

"There was an agreement to try to work together to resolve an impasse," Miller said yesterday. "I expressed my concern to the governor that I didn't want to have to vote against Frank Boston, who I served with in the General Assembly and who is definitely a Republican appointment.

"He understood and acquiesced in withdrawing his name. In light of the governor's favorable actions, Monday we are going to have an executive nominations committee meeting," Miller said.

Despite the talks, legislation prompted in part by Boston's appointment is moving to the governor's desk.

The House of Delegates yesterday gave final approval to a bill that would change the way elections board members are selected, moving some authority from the governor to political party committees. The Senate already had passed the bill.

Elections Board Chairman Gilles W. Burger said the bill would strip the board of any meaningful oversight of the elections administrator. If it is enacted, the board would be able to fire the administrator for cause, as is now the case, but the administrator would stay in office until his or her successor is confirmed by the Senate.

A political battle over control of the state's elections machinery has been waging since the 2002 election of Ehrlich, the first Republican governor in a generation. It has boiled over during the current Assembly session.

Democrats in the Senate have accused Ehrlich of appointing token Democrats to the board in an effort to replace the current elections administrator, Linda H. Lamone, who got her job during the administration of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Last year, Ehrlich named Gene M. Raynor, a former elections administrator and ally of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, to the board. Raynor was expected to be the fourth vote needed to oust Lamone, but she fought back in the courts and kept her job. To replace Raynor, Ehrlich picked Boston.

In announcing his resignation yesterday, Boston issued this statement: "I am disappointed that partisan politics have overshadowed the process for appointments to this important board."

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said Boston's decision to resign was his own and does not signify that the governor has struck a deal with Miller.

DeLeaver would not say whether the governor would veto the election board bill.

"I'll reserve the V-word for the governor, but I can't imagine that he's enthusiastic about it," she said of the bill.

Asked whether the scores of nominees will be approved, with a week to go in the session, Miller said: "I intend to vote for them, but it depends on the committee."

Sun staff writer Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

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