February 18, 2010

Bills would strip governor of Senate appointment power

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

Lawmakers are trying to the power of Maryland’s governor to appoint U.S. senators in the wake of three high-profile vacancies in other states since the last national election, but they have different ideas about how to make that happen.

Del. Saqib Ali, D-Montgomery, introduced a bill modeled after how Massachusetts dealt with the issue following the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. His proposal would require the governor to appoint an interim senator within 30 days, and then call for a special election between 60 and 90 days of the vacancy.

Del. William Frank, R-Baltimore County, has a different idea. His proposal would take away the governor’s power completely, requiring him to call for a special election to occur within the same time frame.

Ali described his bill as “apolitical” since it would not go into effect until 2015. By that point, Gov. Martin O’Malley will have either been defeated for re-election or been forced out by the two-term limit.

“I do not know who the governor will be at the time,” Ali said. “You do not know, [and] we do not know the party of that governor.”

Kennedy’s death was the third in a line of recent Senate vacancies. When Hillary Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, New York governor David Paterson appointed then-Rep, Kirsten Gillibrand. Scandal erupted after the election of President Barack Obama, as Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to sell the vacant senate seat, eventually leading to Blagojevich’s federal arrest and impeachment.

Ali’s proposal would also prohibit the governor’s appointee from running in the special election, to prevent giving the appointee what he called “an undue leg-up” from the short incumbency.

At hearing Tuesday, Ali’s bill was not extensively questioned or discussed, but Frank’s bill was given more scrutiny. Both bills require special elections in the case of a vacancy, but lawmakers questioned Frank about the cost of a special election.

According to state analysts, Frank’s proposal would cost between $500,000 and $1.2 million in the case of a special election, and Ali’s would cost between $1 million and $1.3 million.

Del. Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, asked where the funds for these elections would come from, and questioned the need for special elections at all, given the history and structure of Congress. Senators were not chosen by direct election until the early 1900s, while members of the the House of Representatives have always been chosen by popular vote.