Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes, opting to avoid a bloody fight on the floor of the state Senate in the closing days of the legislative session, today withdrew the controversial nomination of Wayne Hamilton to a second term on the Public Service Commission.
Hughes informed the Senate of his decision a few hours after the Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted 10 to 8 to reject the appointment to the five-member board that sets utility rates. Legislative veterans said the committee vote was a pointed rebuff to the governor that had no recent precedent.
The actions today capped a furious campaign by some consumer groups and Western Maryland legislators to defeat the appointment of Hamilton, a 69-year-old Garrett County dairy farmer who they accused of being pro-utility and insensitive to consumers.
"The whole thing was unfair and rigged from the beginning," said Constance Beims, Hughes' appointments aide who led a spirited counterattack to save the nomination. That effort included calls from Hughes to key senators today.
But the administration's defense of Hamilton was not enough to overcome the two months of lobbying by consumer groups, led by the Citizens Action Coalition and Sen. Victor Cushwa (D-Western Maryland), who orchestrated a campaign that took many senators by surprise.
"We're like a bunch of wild dogs," said Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly (D-Prince George's) last week as he abruptly left a hearing on Hamilton's appointment in obvious embarrassment over the hostile questioning. "One of us goes off after something and we all follow, even though we don't know why." O'Reilly did not appear for the Executive Nominations Committee voting session today.
Beims said the governor's decision to withdraw the appointment was made by Hamilton, who she said felt "we'd all been through enough."
Although Cushwa was supported by most of his Western Maryland colleagues, Sen. John Bambacus, who represents Garrett County, spoke in support of Hamilton's appointment before the committee voted. Hamilton, said Bambacus, "has served Western Maryland well . . . . It's a thankless job and he's been conscientious."
Beims said that Hughes had not decided on a replacement candidate for the PSC post.