Senate rejects Ehrlich picks for board appointments

General Assembly

March 15, 2006|By JILL ROSEN | JILL ROSEN,SUN REPORTER

In a rare move that had the governor's office crying foul, the Senate rejected yesterday five of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s choices to fill local boards - one of which would have bumped Rep. Elijah E. Cummings from Morgan State University's board of regents.

Ehrlich's office, however, is calling the Senate's vote illegal, because it came after the governor attempted to withdraw the nominations. By voting on and rejecting Ehrlich's choices, the Senate quashed the governor's ability to resubmit the names at a later date.

"The Senate president just ignored the [withdrawal] letter and took a vote," said Larry Hogan, Ehrlich's secretary of appointments. "It was very inappropriate and very disappointing."

But lawmakers from Baltimore and St. Mary's County say the governor never discussed his nominations with them in the first place, bypassing their recommendations in favor of his own selections. And in the case of Cummings, they say, it was particularly disrespectful to boot a congressman from a position he has held for nearly seven years.

Because Cummings missed more than half of the board of regents meetings for two years running, Hogan said, rules left the governor no choice but to replace him. Last year, Ehrlich let Cummings' attendance slide but could not this year, Hogan added.

"It was basic stupidity on their part" to nominate him again," the secretary said.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, the Senate's majority leader and a Morgan State graduate, said Cummings' attendance did nothing to detract from his role on the board or his efforts that helped bring the school substantial donations.

"Did the governor receive a letter from someone at Morgan indicating there was some concern about Congressman Cummings making a number of meetings?" asked McFadden. "Give me a break."

Cummings, peeved yesterday by the comments about his attendance, said no one ever told him his record at meetings was a problem.

"That's the first time I've heard about that right now," he said, adding that he doubts that's the real reason Ehrlich looked for someone new. "I have never believed that. I worked hard for Morgan."

Ehrlich had wanted former Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., a Baltimore Democrat whom he has chosen for a number of positions, to replace Cummings.

Boston, a retired city schoolteacher, served 12 years in the House of Delegates before waging an unsuccessful campaign in 1998 to unseat Sen. Clarence W. Blount. Boston made headlines - and angered many in Baltimore and in the Senate - when he sued Blount during that campaign, alleging the Senate majority leader did not live in the district he represented for 27 years. Boston lost his case.

Boston serves on the board of the Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, a position to which he was appointed by Ehrlich. Last year Ehrlich unsuccessfully attempted to nominate him to the State Board of Elections.

Hogan said the governor has selected Boston for the various positions because he is an "outstanding African-American leader."

It's rare for the Senate to reject a governor's choices for local boards and state agencies. In 2003, the Senate rejected Ehrlich's choice of Lynn Y. Buhl to head the Department of the Environment.

Hogan said it's possibly also the first time that the Senate has voted on names that the governor had attempted to withdraw. That move foiled Ehrlich's ability to return to those nominations after the General Assembly session and appoint those people without worrying about the Senate approval.

Ehrlich also wanted to reappoint four people to the St. Mary's County Alcohol Beverage Board: Nathaniel W. Lawrence Sr., Thomas C. Bennett, Lynn M. Canty and Albert R. Babcock.

Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a Democrat who represents St. Mary's, said that he and his constituents wanted to clean house on the board, and that he was baffled by Ehrlich's "arbitrary" decision to reappoint.

jill.rosen@baltsun.com

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