By Timothy Dashiell
ANNAPOLIS— Considering the enormousness of the task, Gov-elect Wes Moore’s selection of a handful of leadership team members Monday is a mere drop in the bucket. Moore will need to make hundreds of appointments to boards and commissions before he assumes office in January.
These selections are crucial to the running of state government and allow Moore a chance to change the way the state operates under his administration and beyond.
Moore announced members of his leadership team Monday, appointing Fagan Harris, friend and co-founder with Moore of a Baltimore non-profit employment and grant-making agency, as chief of staff; Tisha Edwards, director of the Baltimore Office of Children and Family Success and former chief of staff to disgraced Mayor Catherine Pugh, as secretary of appointments; attorney Amanda La Forge, former counsel to the Democratic National Committee, as chief legal counsel; Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, a leading member of the General Assembly, as chief legislative officer, and Helene Grady, vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer for Johns Hopkins University, as secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.
For all the aspirational issues Moore plans to address – poverty, education, unfair incarceration, the minimum wage – one of the most pressing will be a relatively mundane human resources matter, said former Gov. Martin O’Malley.
“In essence, you are becoming CEO of the corporate entity known as the state government of Maryland,” said O’Malley, a Democrat who served from 2007 to 2015. “As the CEO, you have to recruit the best people you possibly can.”
Moore will work with Edwards and the governor’s appointments office.
Edwards and her staff will advise Moore, researching, interviewing and selecting individuals for hundreds of positions within state agencies, departments, boards and commissions.
“Right off the bat, you’re looking at 1,700 positions that the administration will appoint,” said Sushant Sidh, who served as deputy chief of staff for former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening. “These appointments are absolutely critical to how Maryland functions as a state.”
Some are prominent, like the Maryland State Board of Education or the State Board of Elections, others not so much, like the State Board of Massage Therapy Examiners. Each, however, sets guidelines and policies that affect Maryland residents.
The applicants and appointees go through a long process to determine whether they are the right candidate for one of Maryland’s boards.
“It’s a grind,” said current Secretary of Appointments Chris Cavey. “These people must apply and be thoroughly qualified.
“Sometimes, they have two or three separate interviews. It’s our job as an office to help appoint the right person.”
Cavey was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, R, in 2016 and will serve until Jan. 17. Hogan had a unique perspective on the importance of gubernatorial appointments when he appointed Cavey. Hogan served as secretary of appointments from 2003 to 2007 under former Republican Gov. Bob Erhlich.
Moore has options when it comes to how he wants to handle appointments, experts said. Former public officials said he can take a partisan approach to ensure his agenda is pushed, unquestioned and supported, or he can be more bipartisan in his effort.
Cavey said Hogan sought to create well-rounded boards by appointing Republicans and Democrats to the various positions.
“We wanted boards that were representative of the state as a whole,” he said. “For us, that meant appointing men and women, liberals and conservatives and even making sure all (geographical) areas of Maryland had some representation, not just the I-95 corridor.”
O’Malley said he shared the same approach. He said his administration looked to appoint qualified individuals, no matter the party affiliation or who they supported in previous elections.
“I appointed many Republicans when it came to some of the larger boards, commissions and even judgeships,” he said. “I think, provided people are sold and committed to implementing the vision, things like party affiliation do not matter. Some people I appointed openly supported my opponent during the campaign.”
But Sidh and others said there are some times where bipartisanship is not going to be embraced.
“Yes, having people from both sides is a plus, but at the same time, if you have someone that is diametrically opposed to your vision and you’re asking them to implement it, that becomes very difficult,” Sidh said.
Education is one example. Moore stressed during his campaign he wants free pre-kindergarten for all children and to provide more funding for childcare and public school programs, especially schools that have not been given the necessary attention in the past.
“We have to ensure a high quality education for every child in the state of Maryland, whatever it takes,” Moore said during one of his many campaign speeches. ”We must close one of the greatest gaps in our society, the education gap.”
Moore and his team have said his administration will have a board committed to his vision
“Wes looks forward to building an administration with qualified leaders that share his commitment to ensuring every child in Maryland has access to a world-class public education,” said Moore’s communications manager, Carter Elliott.
Still, trying to bend those boards to a governor’s agenda can be difficult. The state’s board of education is an example.
The governor appoints all 14 members to the board. Members, however, serve staggered four-year terms and a student member serves one year, primarily to make sure the board can function through changing administrations, Cavey said. The term structure, which Cavey said applies to all boards, would make it difficult for a governor to significantly sway the board through appointments only.
“The staggered terms give the board more time to make policy and less time playing catch up as a new administration takes over,” Cavey said. “You already have a governor learning his new position and role. You can’t have all these boards going through the same thing.
“So, the key with staggered terms is you have some veteran members that are always around to teach the new members the ropes.”
Another aspect of the pending appointments is the potential for conflicts of interest.
As governor, Moore will appoint members to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
Moore resigned last year from Green Thumb Industries Inc., one of the world’s largest cannabis companies with thousands of employees and a number of facilities in Maryland. He served on the company’s board of directors and on the audit and compensation committee.
Moore, meanwhile, owns thousands of shares amounting to millions of dollars in dozens of companies across different industries, including pharmaceutical, technology, beauty and retail giants.
Additionally, he holds part ownership in several businesses. Moore’s business interests put him in a position where, as governor, he might be called upon to regulate or contract with businesses in which he also has a financial interest, a clear conflict of interest.
He has pledged publicly to put his financial holdings into a blind trust. Moore’s office announced Monday his resignation from all public and private boards since being elected.
“Conflicts are a part of life in government,” Cavey said. “The best way to deal with them is through transparency, and I think they know that. So, I don’t see it as an issue moving forward.”
Moore’s first appointees will officially take office in January.