A decades-old green leather bag containing the names of gubernatorial appointees made its annual trip down the marble State House stairs Friday, handing off the final decision to the Maryland Senate.

Tisha Edwards, Gov. Moore’s appointments secretary and facilitator of the process, delivered hundreds of names to Senate President Bill Ferguson in the purse, handcrafted and embossed with the state seal, before the fortieth day of the legislative session as required by the state constitution.

The ceremonial handoff of names between the coequal branches marks a Maryland tradition researchers have traced back well over a century, and one, historically, that has been symbolic of political favor. Edwards, however, made it clear that’s not what’s happening here. Her team opened the application process, inviting anyone to serve as influential government advisers.

Along with the list of names, Edwards said she’s delivering a message: The Moore administration will run an open state government, and one where all Marylanders are represented.

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“Under our administration, and especially under my leadership as the secretary, the goal is that this is the place where ‘leave no one behind’ really happens,” she said, alluding to the governor’s slogan. “And we want to be held accountable to that, and we’re excited to be kind of the agency that leads that charge.”

Here’s the story behind the ceremony.

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What are the green bag nominations?

Maryland has approximately 600 boards and commissions that need people to run them. The boards carry out a range of tasks, everything from determining best practices and standards in industry to making safety recommendations to the state.

The board and commission seats are term limited and many of them are created by state laws. It’s typically up to the governor to appoint who serves on them. So once the new governor was inaugurated, his administration — Edwards’ team — had a mountain of work before them.

The Moore administration chose to open up the process to the public. Edwards said the goal was to invite people into the process who may have never before had the chance to serve.

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Whose name is in the bag?

The Senate gets the first look at the governor’s recommendations. And they can reject them, too.

The names are submitted without disclosure, though Moore quickly released the full list Friday afternoon.

Edwards told Ferguson there were 307 names in the bag to fill dozens of boards. Half of the names are new appointments, she said. Handing off the green bag marks a first step in a much longer process, Edwards explained.

“I think it’s important to know that there will be more coming over time,” she said.

Edwards and her team are about halfway through their goal of filling about 195 boards and commissions before the end of the legislative session. There will be hundreds more names for the Senate to consider, she said.

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How did the Moore administration choose the appointees?

Historically, Maryland’s green bag carries with it the weight of political patronage. Researchers found plenty of news reports inferring some names got in the bag because they gave the governor money.

And while it’s possible people who helped Moore get elected may end up on a board or commission, Edwards made clear the appointments were not transactional.

“I just feel a great sense of responsibility around that power to bring forward the right people to do the right things for our state,” Edwards told The Banner.

Edwards served as chief of staff on Moore’s election campaign. Before that, she worked in Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration as the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Children & Family Success, connecting families with needed resources.

Moore said in a statement he had the “greatest confidence” in Edwards to carry out his vision.

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“The entire Appointments Office is a team committed to equity and excellence,” Moore said in a statement.

All told, the team received around 1,700 applications, she said. They opened up the process by creating an online portal allowing anyone to apply.

“We promoted this far and wide,” she said. “So this wasn’t about political insiders.”

“We labored over every single person. We talked about every single board.”

The boards and commissions Edwards envisioned should not be all one race, gender or from just a handful of counties.

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“It should be a healthy mix of all of Maryland,” she said.

The Maryland Racing Commission, responsible for setting standards for the horse racing industry, was all white — 10 men and one woman, Edwards said.

“We know that there has to be women who are interested in the horsing industry. Why aren’t they represented on this board?” Edwards asked. “They had never been invited.”

Edwards’s team combed the internet for women in the horse racing industry and found them, she said.

What will the green bag appointees do?

Commissioners and board members form a vast network of volunteers who lend their expertise to the government.

The approximately 600 government bodies touch everything from the roadways to the airways, from the fish in the bay to the soil covering the land, from the safety of amusement park rides to elevators, and from health care to funerals. If it happens in Maryland, there’s likely a board, or a commission, for that.

The members advise the state on a host of critical state issues, such as public health care and environmental waste, and weigh in on the best standards and practices covering just about every corner of industry and recreation.

Tisha Edwards, Secretary of Appointments, receives the Green Bag from Maria Day, Senior Director of Special Collections, Conservation, & Library Services
at the Maryland State Archives, in Annapolis on February 15, 2023.
Tisha Edwards, secretary of appointments, receives the green bag from Maria Day, senior director of special collections, conservation and library services at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis on Feb. 15, 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

What’s with the green bag?

Like Chesapeake Bay blue crabs smothered in Old Bay Seasoning, the green bag is steeped in layers of Maryland and England’s history — just without as much brand recognition.

To document the fancy satchel’s origin, archivists and historians conducted a thorough search of state records and newspaper archives. Here’s what they dug up.

The term “green bag” comes from England, and is a slang term for a lawyer. And it wasn’t always used in a nice way, either. Apparently, lawyers carried their important documents around in green cloth bags.

“By the nineteenth century, ‘green bag’ was firmly established in America as a term that referred to lawyers. But in Maryland the term referred as well to political appointments,” an archive newsletter states.

Although researchers found references to green bag appointments describing nominations made by the mayor of Baltimore and eventually gubernatorial appointments, they didn’t find a trace of an actual bag until the 1940s. When one secretary of state couldn’t find the bag he needed to deliver the appointments, he upcycled a chair’s upholstery to make one, according to the archive newsletter.

And there have been other designs since, including a far less frugal Gucci bag. The one used Friday was made in the 1980s by an artisan and embossed with the Maryland state seal.

The green bag is stored in a red box, wrapped in white paper and kept in a climate-controlled room along with other precious artifacts in the archives’ special collections. And when it is taken out, it only travels a little over two miles round-trip to the State House and back to the archives on Rowe Boulevard.

Does the governor’s appointment secretary have to use a green bag?

No. But Edwards chose to keep the tradition alive.

While the Maryland Constitution does say the governor must deliver the nominees’ names to the Senate by the 40th day of the legislative session, there’s no mention of how they must be delivered.

The bulk of the candidates’ files, resumes and background checks get transmitted electronically, but the bag transfer symbolizes the coequal branches building government together.

“I think we are really attuned to the traditions of state government and Annapolis, and we want to honor that,” she said. “And we want to elevate these nominations.”

brenda.wintrode@thebaltimorebanner.com