When state lawmakers resign in the midst of their terms, a small group of partisan politicians — the political party central committees — nominates a replacement, though the governor has the final say.
A new poll shows that Marylanders would prefer special elections instead, potentially boosting a long-running but unsuccessful effort to change the vacancy process.
About 85% of Marylanders questioned in a recent poll favored special elections to fill vacancies in the General Assembly. The question was part of a poll of more than 800 voters conducted by Gonzales Media & Research Services in September.
Only 13% of those polled supported keeping the current process.
The support for special elections was consistent across party, gender, age and racial groups. One group that offered slightly less support for special elections was voters in Baltimore City, with about 70% preferring special elections and 29% favoring the current process.
Why does it matter?
A significant number of Maryland’s state lawmakers, including some who have risen to leadership positions, got their start by being appointed to their seats. The advocacy groups Common Cause Maryland and Maryland PIRG estimate that more than 23% of members of the General Assembly were not originally elected to the seats where they serve.
The situation is drawing renewed attention with state Sen. Melony Griffith, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, announcing last week that she plans to resign to take a job heading the state hospital association. Earlier in 2023, there were multiple departures from the General Assembly by lawmakers who went to work for Gov. Wes Moore’s administration.
“The General Assembly can’t continue to allow a handful of individuals to speak on behalf of thousands of voters,” said Joanne Antoine, Common Cause Maryland’s executive director, in a statement. “Letting another legislative session pass with no action continues to diminish the voice of the voters.”
Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr added in a statement: “There is no doubt that appointed policymakers are committed to public service and their districts, but our democracy would be stronger and more resilient if we joined state legislatures across the country that hold special elections.”
Baltimore councilman questions new hybrid work policy
At a Baltimore City Council committee hearing reviewing the newly instituted “return-to-office” policy, a Baltimore City councilman questioned whether the mandate would improve constituent service delivery as the mayor and city administrator have suggested.
City Councilman Robert Stokes, who represents East Baltimore, said at Wednesday’s Health, Environment and Technology Committee hearing that constituents commonly lodge complaints with his office about city workers being difficult to reach. He asked how those interactions would be enhanced if city employees continue to work remotely a few days a week.
“COVID’s over. Constituents cannot get anybody to answer the phone or emails,” he said, clearly exasperated by the discussion. “How are we addressing that with a two, three-day work-week when we can’t get anyone to answer right now?”
City Administrator Faith Leach, who has been leading the “future of work” discussion and policy within the city, replied that day-to-day work has not ceased in spite of more flexible work policies. And Quinton M. Herbert, the city’s director and chief human capital officer for the Department of Human Resources, presented survey data reporting that 73% of city government workers said they were more productive at home and another 63% would leave their jobs if they had to report in person full-time.
Starting in January, city workers will be expected to report to offices a minimum of three days a week, the mayor and city administrator said last month. Employees can appeal to their supervisors for even more flexibility as needed, Leach said, and no one will be expect to report to work “100% of the time” or with the frequency they did prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
The change will affect about 2,000 government employees who have been working remotely more than twice a week, Leach reiterated Wednesday. She said the policy would “standardize” how city agencies treat remote work and allow the city to make some changes regarding office space usage, technology and customer service training.
Stokes asked Leach who would hold city government workers accountable for their shortcomings at constituent service delivery should the return-to-office mandate fall short of expectations.
“Agency leadership and supervisors,” she responded. “This is an opportunity for us to train around customer service to remind the enterprise of what the standards are.”
Stokes also asked for data about city government job vacancies, saying city government’s responsiveness problems predate the pandemic.
“I applaud you,” he told Leach. “But this was happening before COVID. This is nothing new. How can we train, how can we implement something, when we don’t know how many employees we have in each agency?”
Reshuffling in Senate committee leadership
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson gave several longtime senators new leadership posts after a key committee chair vacated her role to head a powerful hospital trade association.
The assignments, given to all Democratic senators who already hold varied leadership positions, will take effect Nov. 1, according to a letter Ferguson sent to senators.
“These appointments were determined by taking input from senators and balancing that against several considerations, including ensuring geographic, gender, and racial diversity, maintaining policy expertise, and ensuring stability,” Ferguson said in the letter.
Sen. Pamela Beidle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, will replace Sen. Melony Griffith as chair of the Finance Committee. Griffith announced last Friday she’ll become CEO of the influential Maryland Hospital Association.
Griffith’s fellow Prince George’s countian Sen. Alonzo Washington will pick up a seat on the Finance Committee to ensure the jurisdiction “will continue to have a critical voice in some of the most impactful policy areas in the State,” Ferguson wrote.
As she takes on the Finance chair, Beidle will hand her leadership role over the Executive Nominations Committee to Sen. Antonio Hayes. Hayes, who represents Baltimore City, most recently served as the committee’s vice chair. Sen. Clarence Lam, a Democrat from Anne Arundel and Howard counties, will fill the vice chair spot and also make history as the first Asian American to serve as a vice chair or chair in a Senate committee, according to the letter.
Sen. Joanne Benson will assume Hayes’ former role as majority whip, and Baltimore County’s Sen. Shelly Hettleman will take over Benson’s soon-to-be former position as chair of the Rules Committee. Sen. C. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County will serve as Rules Committee vice chair.
Sen. Michael Jackson will serve as the Senate Democratic Caucus’s vice chair.
U.S. Senate race updates
The Democratic candidates for the soon-to-be-open seat in the U.S. Senate are continuing to try to gain traction with endorsement announcements and other events. Here’s a look at the latest in the race:
David Trone, currently a Congressman from Montgomery County, put out a list this week of 45 new endorsers. The list is heavy on current and former members of Congress from other states, but also includes state Sen. Katherine Klausmeier of Baltimore County and half a dozen state lawmakers from Montgomery County (Sen. Brian Feldman and Dels. Lesley Lopez, David Fraser-Hidalgo, Linda Foley, Greg Wims and Lily Qi).
Trone also is launching a “Latino/a/x/e Advisory Board” with a community meeting in Hyattsville on Sunday.
Angela Alsobrooks, currently the Prince George’s County executive, meanwhile, picked up an endorsement from Senate President Bill Ferguson in Fells Point on Friday.
Ferguson recalled meeting Alsobrooks a decade ago for what he thought was a brief get-to-know-you meeting. They ended up talking for 90 minutes about public policy. He later was impressed seeing her at work at an event with senior citizens.
“There are folks who show up for an event for publicity or for their own individual gain,” Ferguson said. “And then there are those leaders who do what it takes to make a difference and change the world. And consistently, over and over and over, as state’s attorney, as county executive, as a leader of people, Angela Alsobrooks has proven that she is the person that Maryland needs in the U.S. Senate.”
Ferguson was joined at the endorsement event at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park by Sen. Mary Washington and Del. Sandy Rosenberg, who’d previously endorsed Alsobrooks.
Juan Dominguez, a new entrant into the Democratic primary, launched a three-month RV listening tour across the state, starting in Western Maryland. The son of immigrants from Cuba, Dominguez says he is a West Point graduate and Gulf War veteran who later became a business executive. He’s promoting an economic plan that involves increased taxes on the rich to be used for monthly $1,000 “poverty dividends.”
Ferguson waiting to endorse in Baltimore mayor’s race
Endorsements from sitting politicians may seem a little inside baseball, but they matter.
Besides signaling to everyday residents that their elected official believes in a candidate’s platform, endorsements signal an alliance to donors and high-profile politicos, which leads to more dollars to fuel advertisements and canvassing. And in competitive Baltimore races, where Democratic primaries are often settled by a few percentage points, every boost matters.
That’s why it’s interesting that Sen. President Bill Ferguson, a prominent Baltimore Democrat who headlined a fundraiser for an incumbent city councilman just a few months ago, kicked the can down the road when asked whether he would endorse in the 2024 mayor’s race at an endorsement event for Angela Alsobrooks.
“I think there’s a lot of work that we’ve got to do together with everyone at the table,” he said. “And so, you know, we’re going to focus on session and then we’ll take it from there.”
The 2024 General Assembly session runs from Jan. 10 to April 8. Early voting starts less than a month later on May 2; Election Day is May 14.
All signs point to a competitive mayoral primary, where Mayor Brandon Scott and former Mayor Sheila Dixon are squaring off. A recent poll from The Baltimore Banner and Goucher College asked city Democrats who they would vote for if the election were held today. Thirty-nine percent said Dixon, 27% chose Scott, and another 23% prefer “some other candidate.” On Thursday, Bob Wallace entered the Democratic primary.
Ferguson, a South Baltimore Democrat who became president of the Maryland Senate in January 2020 after winning over his lawmaker peers, worked for then-City Council President Dixon as a community liaison from 2006 to 2007. He did not endorse a candidate for mayor in 2020 until after Scott won the primary. Ferguson endorsed Gov. Wes Moore about a month before the 2022 primary election.
PAC supporting Carroll County school board candidates fined
A political action committee has to pay a fine of $20,250 for sending text messages to thousands of Carroll County voters last year that didn’t have the proper authority line — believed to be the largest fine of its kind in state history.
The 1776 Project Political Action Committee sent a text message to nearly 14,000 voters urging them to “stop indoctrination in our schools” and vote for the “pro-parent ticket for school board,” which included Tara Battaglia, James Miller and Steve Whisler, according to the Office of the State Prosecutor.
The text messages did not include the required disclosure of who authorized and paid for the messages.
Battaglia and Whisler were the top two vote-getters in the election and are now serving on Carroll County’s school board. Miller finished fourth and did not win one of the three seats available.
The PAC’s website has materials criticizing critical race theory and anti-racism efforts, alleging that educators and politicians are “attempting to socially engineer our society and its relation to race, racism and power” with positions that are “incredibly hostile to white people, Western civilization, classical liberalism, the enlightenment, the founding of America and capitalism.”
The 1776 Project PAC’s listed chairperson, New York-based conservative writer Ryan Girdusky, described the lack of an authority line on the texts as an “oversight.”
“I’m grateful to the state for making us aware of the oversight,” Girdusky said in a statement. “We’ve learned from our mistakes and we will be a better organization because of it. We’re looking forward to investing in ... school board races in Maryland in the future and winning more seats for conservative candidates as we did in Carroll County.”
The fine was announced this week by State Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard and Jared DeMarinis, state elections administrator.
“Being able to identify the source of information for campaign material is essential to honesty and transparency in our electoral process,” Howard said in a statement.
Added DeMarinis: “The State Board of Elections is committed to continuing to ensure that there is no mystery about who is communicating with voters in Maryland elections.”
DeMarinis posted on social media that the fine against the 1776 Project PAC is “the largest monetary authority line violation in history of the State.”