Replacing legislators needs more openness and public participation

Replacing legislators needs more openness and public participation

Photo above: Gov.-elect Larry Hogan names Craig Williams as chief of staff and Sen. Joe Getty as legislative director.

By Len Lazarick

Joe Getty, the Republican senator from Carroll County, went to the State Board of Elections a few blocks from the State House last Jan. 16, and filed for reelection.

By the next day, the board posted the notice of his filing on the Internet for all the World Wide Web to see.

His Democratic opponent, Anita Riley, made a similar trek, filing on Feb. 24. It was posted the same day.

Over the next months, the two candidates would file six campaign finance reports, also posted online, telling who was supporting them financially.

In June, even though both were unopposed in the primary, 12,484 Republicans would vote for Getty, and 4,471 Democrats would cast ballots for Riley.

In November, in this district designed to pack Republicans in, Getty would win in a landslide, getting 78% of the vote, with 37,406 people voting for him, and 10,203 for Riley.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan has now named Getty as his legislative and policy director. Getty will resign, and as directed by the state constitution, the nine members of the Republican Central Committee from Carroll County will get to nominate his successor, and the governor typically appoints the person recommended.

A closed, partisan process   

None of the openness, transparency and public participation that characterized Getty’s election now apply.

Who is running for Getty’s seat? The Carroll Central Committee won’t release the names. It posted this notice on its website.

“Senator Joe Getty – District 5 Vacancy – The applications collection process is now closed. The committee is currently in the candidate selection process.  A final announcement will be made in early January.”

Don’t call us — we’ll call you.

Nine people, elected in the June Republican primary, will get to choose a replacement for a state senator who represents 128,000 people and was elected by 37,000 voters. That person will serve the rest of Getty’s four year term, with all its pay, benefits and power.

Similar process in Frederick

A similar but slightly more open process is under way to replace Del. Kelly Schulz of Frederick County, named by Hogan to be secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Since District 4 includes a slice of Carroll County, the Republican Central Committee there is also involved in the process.

The Frederick GOP committee released the names of the nominees, but it chose to interview only three of them. There the process is being controlled by Sen.-elect Mike Hough’s faction of the party. His wife, JoeyLynn Hough, is the chair of the central committee.

A delegate candidate who ran and lost on Hough’s ticket, Barrie Ciliberti, will get interviewed; Wendi Peters will not be interviewed. She got 600 more votes than Ciliberti as a losing delegate candidate who ran with Schulz and Sen. David Brinkley, whom Hough defeated in the primary.

In Anne Arundel County, the Republican Central Committee will get to nominate a replacement for Del. Cathy Vitale, who was named a Circuit Court judge by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Backroom deals, aversion to special elections

In all these cases, the local committees pretty much make up the rules for the process as they go along. The Maryland Constitution spells out their responsibilities, but it doesn’t detail the process for choosing the replacements. Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and its Public Information Act do not apply.

It is the epitome of backroom deal making, and the three legislators just happen to be Republicans. The same closed partisan process applies to Democratic vacancies as well.

It allows a handful of partisan representatives to choose legislators who sometimes serve for four years, with all the perks of office.

Maryland has a strong aversion to special elections to fill any kind of vacancy in elected office. Only a few counties permit it for vacancies on their councils.

It is understandable to have a process for a quick appointment to fill a vacancy for a 90-day General Assembly session, but why is there no special election to follow?

Maryland only conducts special elections for vacancies in one major office — U.S. House of Representatives. That’s because the U.S. Constitution has required it for 225 years.

Reforming the process

At a League of Women Voters luncheon in Ellicott City on Saturday, Ken Stevens, a longtime good government advocate, suggested Maryland at least hold elections for vacant seats that occur early in a legislative term at the next presidential election. A couple of delegates thought that was a good idea; it was a reform passed for vacancies on the Howard County school board.

Special elections conducted by mail, as permitted for vacancies on the Montgomery County Council, are an even better idea.

At the very least, the General Assembly ought to force the party central committees to conduct an open process of applications, with all candidates given the option for public interviews. And if the party central committees are going to operate under the pretense that they are elected officials — even if chosen only by voters in their own party — they ought to be made to comply with the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act to bring some sunshine into the backroom dealings that go on.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. higgy01

    I doubt there would be even a conversation if all involved were democrats!

  2. ksteve

    Given that the state constitution requires the current legislative vacancy-filling process, it seems that a cure can be done only via a constitutional amendment. I’d support your “even better idea,” Len, of filling such vacancies via voting by mail in a special election. That could speed up the (small d) democratic process and
    apply to the current crop of appointees, since the people could vote on the proposed constitutional amendment in 2016 and the election by mail could be done in 2017. My preference, by far, would be to conduct both a special primary and special general election by mail. It doesn’t help a whole lot if party committees choose who the general election candidates will be.

  3. JoeEldersburg

    Transparency in Carroll County? Sorry, it’s never going to happen when nuts run the Carroll Republican Central Committee. The only hope for a responsible choice is if the CCRCC is de-certified, like it should be over it’s recent antics with the election and a new group formed. Hopefully, Governor-elect Hogan is getting informed opinions on qualified candidates from outside the central committee, as it’s all but a done deal that their choices will be bad for the county and bad for the state.

  4. BSmotoristkillers

    Well, if we’re going down the election reform path, then can we get an Amen for no lifetime Board of Elections Administrator appointments, some non-partisan redistricting, and maybe even non-partisan races for another below state level? I dream, I dream.

    • ksteve

      I’ve advocated in the past for abolishing such issue-less offices as sheriff, clerk of court, register of wills, and judge of the orphan’s court appointive rather than elective. But elected officials who could initiate action on that seem unwilling to do so. I agree that, if there must be an election to fill those offices where the only issues seem to be competence at performing administrative functions, it should be a non-partisan one. I also support non-partisan elections for judge of the circuit court. Presently, independents are discriminated against because they can’t vote in the party primaries that select the general election candidates.
      I thought the governor had some role to play in determining who was going to administer the Board of Elections. Surely, it shouldn’t be a lifetime job (any more than the US Supreme Court, in my opinion).
      As for non-partisan redistricting: I think Maryland Democrats would be damn fools to surrender their advantage in drawing the lines here while Republicans in those states where they generally control the redistricting process routinely draw lines that maximize their advantage. I do support a national constitutional amendment requiring ALL states to redistrict via non-partisan commissions at the SAME time. Otherwise, forget it. This is a matter beyond dreams.

    • ksteve

      I’d definitely support non-partisan races for offices where there are no real issues involved (like Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Register of Wills, and Judge of the Orphan’s Court). I’d also favor it for those occasional Circuit Court judge elections. So I can dream, too. As regards non-partisan redistricting, I’d favor it only after a federal constitutional amendment was adopted requiring that it occur in EVERY state at the SAME time. Democrats in Maryland would be damn fools if they surrendered their current role in redistricting here if Republicans in the states where they generally control the process do not do it at the same time. I do agree that no Board of Elections administrator should have a lifetime appointment, but assume whoever is governor would have some say about that.

  5. DavidMarker

    I support Ken’s suggestion that the replacement should serve until the next election, so it won’t be more than two years. But there is a long history of central committees (at least in some jurisdictions) using a fully open process. When I served on the Howard County Democratic Central Committee in 1986-1990 we had to replace both a county councilperson and a state delegate. We had an open call for candidates, interviewed them all in public session and voted openly. The council vacancy I believe went 5 ballots before selecting Paul Farragut to replace Ruth Keeton. This can, and should, be an open process.

    • ksteve

      Yes, David, I remember the differences between the open system used by the Howard County Democratic Central Committee and the closed “back room” system used by the Prince George’s Committee when considering who would replace the resigning Delegate Sue Buswell (whose district included parts of both counties) around the end of 1989 or beginning of 1990. It was a whole different political world there in Prince George’s.

  6. citizensadvocate

    Len, the ethical point you make is very valid, but I do question your outrage. Here in Prince George’s County, which has been an entirely one-party jurisdiction for more than 20 years, and in practical terms since shortly after Larry Hogan SENIOR left Congress, I can never recall an instance where the County Democratic Central Committee filled a vacancy outside of the back-room deal-making scenario you describe. That is the political culture of the Maryland (and in particular PG County) Democratic machine. Its sad (but not entirely shocking) that Republicans, with far less governing experience, stumble into the nasty ruts of cronyism created by 106 years of continuous single party control of the state legislature–probably the longest legislative incumbency in the US. Mike Hethmon

    • lenlazarick

      Why is everything cast in a partisan vein, often in total disregard of what is written in black and white? In this instance, the article says: “the
      three legislators just happen to be Republicans. The same closed
      partisan process applies to Democratic vacancies as well.”

      Maryland Reporter has often written about the lack of special elections. It just so happens that the most recent cases involve Republicans — e.g. the District 36 replacement of Sen. E.J. Pipkin, which created a four-county stink,

      The process was devised by party bosses to maintain control, and the dominant Democrats have given the same control to the Republicans.


      • Ken Sandin

        “Why is everything cast in a partisan vein, often in total disregard of what is written in black and white?” See David Berreby’s 2005 book Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind.

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