January 30, 2015

Delegates want voters to fill vacancies in legislature, but GOP wants to keep party role

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miele moon

Photos: Dels. Christian Miele and David Moon

By Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com

Two freshman delegates from each party are working on legislation to give voters a greater role in filling legislative seats that become vacant.

At the same time, Republican Party officials are working on ways to establish statewide party rules that will maintain the strong role of party central committees in the process and avoid the special elections the delegates are proposing.

The issue is a hot one in Annapolis as three counties must fill seats held by senators and a delegate who have now become part of the Hogan administration.

The Maryland Constitution gives the local party committees a key role in selecting a replacement for senators and delegates from their own party. But it does not specify a process for how they select a name to send to the governor, who makes the final appointment.

The Republican Central Committees in Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties all used different methods to select replacements for Sen. Joe Getty, Del. Kelly Schulz and Sen. Chris Shank. Carroll had the most secretive process, voting in closed meetings on names of applicants the committee would not reveal.

The appointments will fill out the full four-year term of those elected to the position.

Progressive Democrat, libertarian Republican

Del. David Moon, a progressive Democrat from Montgomery, and Del. Christian Miele, a libertarian Republican from Baltimore County, are coordinating with each other to introduce constitutional amendments offering different approaches to the selection process. They plan on co-sponsoring each others bills.

Miele’s bill, still in the drafting stages, takes the more radical and costly approach. It would require an immediate special election to fill any vacancy in the Maryland General Assembly.

“It puts power back in the people’s hands,” Miele said, while admitting “it’s so expensive to have a special election.”

“People vote for candidates, they don’t vote for political parties,” said Miele.

He was elected from District 8, an unusual three-member district represented by two Republican delegates and a Democrat. He notes that in last year’s six-way race for the three seats, a Democrat came in fourth, and asks why it would have to be a Republican to fill a seat if he or fellow Republican Del. John Cluster needed to be replaced.

He believes the voters should decide.

“I was thinking this was a good government bill,” Miele said.

Looking for palatable solution

Moon figures that is too drastic a change for most legislators to swallow.

“I’m trying to get something that’s palatable to people,” Moon said.

His constitutional amendment would allow counties to choose if they want to have special elections for vacancies, but they would only be held in presidential election years as part of the regular voting process. The central committees would continue to nominate candidates to fill the seats, but anyone appointed in the first two years of a four-year term would have to run for the seat.

Special elections in Maryland are rare. The county charters in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties do call for special elections to fill vacancies on their county councils.

The U.S. Constitution requires special elections for vacancies in the U.S. House of Representatives, but not for the Senate, where the states have set up varying rules.

In his bill, “You don’t strip all the central committee powers away,” Moon said. “I tried to eliminate a fiscal note,” the analysis that estimates how much a piece of legislation would cost.

Moon said he is currently getting co-sponsors for his approach, and expects Sen. Brian Feldman, another Montgomery County Democrat, to cross file the same legislation in the Senate. Feldman, a former delegate, was initially appointed to the Senate seat in the current central committee process.

Both constitutional amendments would have to be approved by voters in next year’s election.

Republicans want to maintain committee power

Diana Waterman, chair of the Maryland Republican Party, wants to maintain the powerful role of the local central committees of both parties, whose members are chosen in party primaries. Waterman has drafted recommended guidelines that would go into the party bylaws. She wants to see a more open and orderly process for the filling of vacancies followed throughout the state.

Waterman said the proposal still needs some changes before she shares them with her executive committee.

“We are in discussions with the [Hogan] administration, so it’s not counterproductive with what they want,” Waterman said.

Her proposed rules could not be adopted until the next statewide Republican convention in April.

“I’m sure it will be highly debated and discussed,” she said.

“We’re opposed to the idea of special elections for a variety of reasons,” including costs.

“We can fix the problems that have existed … We are aware of inconsistencies” in how different central committees handle vacancies, Waterman said.

Other than helping the party raise money and helping Republicans get elected in the first place, filling vacancies in public offices is one of the only official responsibilities of the central committees and they don’t want to lose that authority.

Waterman said she regrets that the party did not act to make the process more uniform after the problems in filling the Senate seat in District 36 on the Upper Shore, in which central committees from four different counties had a role.

Appointments may come next week

Shareese Churchill of Gov. Hogan’s press office said the governor’s appointments office has been interviewing the nominees for the three open seats. Hogan will make the appointments after he gets the recommendations from his staff.

Article III, Sec. 1 of the Maryland Constitution states, “the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing” by the central committee or committees, in the case of multi-county districts.

Hogan said he wanted three names for each seat to choose from.

  • ksteve

    It seems that the quickest and least costly way of returning power to the people in filling legislative vacancies is via a constitutional amendment that requires special primary and general elections by mail as soon as possible after the constitutional amendment is ratified in 2016. Otherwise, this year’s appointees will get to serve four-year terms without having gotten elected by the voters in their districts.
    We’ve seen how party central committees operate (and, regardless of which political party is doing it, I don’t think it’s any different this year than in the past). These party insiders will simply provide the names of their ideological pals, regardless of how the latest vote has gone, to the governor. You can see it this year in both Carroll and Frederick Counties. Even under my proposal, the party committees would get to send forward the initial names (and it should be three instead of one so that the governor has some choice in the matter other than outright rejection). I hope that Gov. Hogan was serious when he said he wanted three names for each vacancy. If he was serious, he needs to make sure that the Frederick and Washington County central committees get the message. If the chair of the Frederick County committee can get away with saying they haven’t been asked to provide three, it makes it look like he’s just picking on Carroll. That Frederick committee looks bad enough already for bypassing a candidate who got more votes than the slate mate of Senator Hough.

    • snowmaggedoned

      Rrrriiight…by all means let’s have a vote by mail…..as if our current system isn’t rife with voter fraud enough already.

      If voters don’t want to elect Central Committee members to do this job, then they can leave their ballots blank next time in 2018 in the Republican and Democrat Primary. Let’s elect nobody to either Central Committee in each county and then you can create a new special election concept by law.

      Until then…stay the course of what the voters chose this last June 2014 Primary. They elected both a Republican and Democrat Central Committee. Those seats are non-paid positions for the express purpose to keep corruption out of the process to replace vacated elected offices on the state level.

      • ksteve

        So far, in recent years, three states (Oregon, Washington, and Colorado) have switched over from voting at polling places to voting by mail. If there was the kind of “voter fraud’ you’re talking about, we would have heard about it.
        Beyond that, we (and other states) already permit absentees to vote by mail. It’s not that scary a deal.
        It’s not like the party central committees would be put out of business by the proposals of either delegate. They’d still get the same role as now in filling the initial vacancy.
        But, if you think there’s never any “corruption” or funny business involved in the way some of them conduct the task, you haven’t been watching very closely. For their LD5 Senate vacancy, the Carroll County Republican Central Committee initially send forward the single name of a person who was so unpopular with the voters in her jurisdiction that they rejected her overwhelmingly for reelection to the county Commission just last year and who seems to think it’s a great idea to provide her own vocal prayers at public meetings. In doing so, they bypassed, among others, the popularly-reelected delegate (Justin Ready) who was ultimately selected by the governor to fill the vacancy. Whatever her merits, Robin Bartlett Frazier must have a lot of political friends on that committee. In filling the delegate vacancy in LD4, the Frederick GOP committee, chaired by the spouse of LD4 Senator Hough, sent up the single name of a guy who ran on the Hough slate even though he had finished last and over 600 votes behind a candidate for the position in the primary (Wendi Peters) who was running on the opposing slate. So, unless the state constitution is amended, the voters in that district will apparently be stuck with a guy who is now 78 years old (Barrie Ciliberti) as their delegate until the next state legislative election in 2018. But he did have the advantage of running on the Hough slate..

        • snowmaggedoned

          Just because you haven’t heard of any voter fraud doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred.

          For example….how many times did you hear about voter fraud in the 2012 election on the main stream evening newscasts?

          Zero…yet there were hundreds of improprieties and fraudulent votes cast in that Presidential election.

          The liberal presses motto is out of sight…out of mind.

  • snowmaggedoned

    Leave it to a spendthrift Democrat and an ignoramus Libertarian to chop at the bit to spend even MORE money we don’t have on Special Elections. The Maryland Constitution has worked for hundreds of years to fill vacancies as Assembly men and women leave office. The Republican Central Committee is chosen through an election by THE PEOPLE in the Republican Primary every four years just for this purpose so we won’t have to go through the process to pay for an expensive election. Leave the Central Committees alone and let them DO THEIR JOBS THEY WERE VOTED TO DO.

    • David

      Quick clarification: my special elections bill won”t really cost more, because the specials would be added to the presidential elections we are already paying for.

      • snowmaggedoned

        So what your saying is let’s have the constituents of those few districts go without a representative for two years so you can tag these special elections on the cost of the Presidential elections???

        You really don’t care do you about people having their voices heard in state government!

        You are wrong and should leave this alone.

        But, like all people in government, if it isn’t broke, we just have got to “fix it”.

        • David

          Still wrong — my bill would still have the Central Committees appoint replacements for the interim 2 years.

          • snowmaggedoned

            Let’s leave it up to the voters to decide in this session….if your bill gets that far out of committee.