While Senate colleagues halted proceedings during the special legislative session to applaud Harford County Sen. J. Robert Hooper for nearly nine years of service, county Republicans began the task of looking for his successor.
Hooper, 71 and in frail health, walked into the Senate chamber Thursday, ready to work on the tax package one day after announcing his resignation. He arrived in the middle of a colleague's speech on increasing the sales tax.
The Republican from Street, who has represented District 35 since 1999, received a standing ovation from senators, staff and observers in the balcony.
The applause continued, and before Sen. Ulysses Currie, chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, could resume, members approved a resolution honoring Hooper's service.
"We will miss your presence in the Senate chamber and your contribution to this body," the resolution said.
Hooper said, "I can't explain it in words, the honor and privilege of having my name up there [on the Senate vote board] with the folks who are here now and have been for the past eight years. It's been a privilege to represent Harford County. I'm not sure I deserve it, but that's where the good Lord put me for those years."
Hooper has battled colon cancer for the past few years and suffered a mild heart attack late last year. He announced Wednesday in Bel Air that he will resign effective Dec. 31.
The legislator that many called the Hoop is known for high-fiving staff members and legislators in the State House.
"He brought some down-home country values to the Senate, and we're not going to forget him very soon," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
Sen. David R. Brinkley, the minority leader, called Hooper "a genuine gentleman who lives the life he preaches.
"He sets things on his own terms and does what is in the best interest of his district," Brinkley said. "This decision to step aside is emblematic of who Bob Hooper is."
Illness and the rigors of the special session convinced Hooper that he could not continue representing the district that includes 78,170 registered voters residing in northern Harford County and much of the Bel Air area.
In a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, the Harford County Republican Central Committee set about what Michael A. Geppi Sr., central committee chairman, called "a solemn and humbling task" of naming a successor.
The committee is accepting applications until Friday from those interested in filling the remaining three years of Hooper's term. Interviews are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Nov. 29.
"We will ask questions that test party loyalty and to make sure the nominee has proven to be electable and able to raise funds," Geppi said.
Any member of the central committee who applies will be excluded from the nominating process.
Members expect to recommend to the governor a successor before the 2008 legislative session opens in January, Geppi said.
In an unusual move, Hooper has asked that Del. Barry Glassman, leader of Harford's delegation, be appointed to the Senate.
"I understand that the selection of my successor is a decision to made by others," Hooper said. "I will leave this up to the committee. I am not one to hammer away at folks."
Geppi said, "Personally, his recommendation means a lot."
Bob Mumby, president of the county Republican Club, said he does not expect many challengers to Glassman.
"Senator Hooper expressed strong wishes, and that carries a lot of weight because of who Bob is," Mumby said. "He is a real community servant and that is what we are all looking for in his successor. Like him, Barry is a good guy who also is not in this for himself."
The real scramble for a seat will begin if Glassman moves to the Senate.
About a dozen names of those who might want to represent District 35A are being tossed about. Applying for the Senate seat will not further a candidate's chances for a possible delegate vacancy, Geppi said.
"Apply for the Senate, if you feel you are a viable candidate, not in the hopes of helping to get the delegate seat," Geppi said. "I have heard very few names for the Senate vacancy, but there are a lot of names bandied about for the delegate seat."
According to rules of procedure, the committee can proceed with interviews, but cannot vote on the vacancy until it takes effect on Dec. 31. The committee will then send one name to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who will make the appointment official.
"If an incumbent in another office fills the Senate seat, the process will be done over," Geppi said.
Prospective candidates for the Senate should submit a letter of intent and a resume, postmarked no later than Friday, to the Republican Central Committee of Harford County, attention Barbara Suite, Secretary, P. O. Box 289, Bel Air, Md. 21014.