Maryland's first Republican governor in three decades exercised his patronage power yesterday with a list of more than 200 nominations to boards and commissions, but some of the most prominent names on the list belonged to Democrats.
Former House speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and former Prince George's county executive Wayne K. Curry were among the Democrats plucked for unpaid commissions by Gov. Robert. L. Ehrlich Jr. And the law partner of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) would be reappointed to a paid post.
With the fate of his initiatives -- such as legalizing slot machine gambling and expanding the number of charter schools -- in the hands of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, the governor's decision to reach across party lines to fill boards and commissions is hardly surprising. Still, his efforts have miffed some Republicans.
One member of the House called Taylor's appointment "a slap in the face," because the former speaker raised money to defeat Republican candidates across the state. House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr. (Baltimore County) offered a terse "no comment" on the appointments, while Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (Somerset) said he can "understand the people that are frustrated."
"I think that Governor Ehrlich is doing what he said he would do during the campaign, which is to be inclusive," Stoltzfus said. "I'm not going to second-guess him, but I'm not saying I'd make that choice."
Ehrlich's appointment secretary, Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., dismissed such complaints, saying that the majority of the nominations were Republican and that the governor needs to work with Democrats.
"There's some that think that now that we have a Republican governor that every appointment ought to be a Republican," he said.
Ehrlich's nominations must be voted on by the Senate along with his more high-profile Cabinet picks.
Yesterday, senators approved former Baltimore police commissioner Edward T. Norris to head the Maryland State Police after concerned black lawmakers received assurances that the governor would settle a racial profiling lawsuit against the agency by the end of this month. But they delayed confirming Ehrlich's choice to head the Department of Natural Resources amid questions about his views on protecting the Chesapeake Bay.
Ehrlich's "green bag" appointments -- nominees to the mostly unpaid boards and commissions -- were sent down yesterday in a green bag, a tradition of Maryland's governors. Among them was Curry, one of the state's most prominent African American politicians and a man Republicans hope to persuade to switch parties. He will sit on the Maryland Port Commission, which oversees issues surrounding the maritime center that handles more than 30 million tons of cargo a year from around the world and generates $1.4 billion in annual revenue.
Ehrlich picked Taylor, a longtime Western Maryland lawmaker defeated by a Republican in November, as one of 13 members of the Maryland Health Care Commission. Taylor, who focused on health care policy while in office, will help regulate the services that health care facilities may offer and develop policies to keep health coverage affordable to small businesses.
The governor reappointed John R. Webster, Miller's law partner, to a 12-year term on the Maryland State Workers Compensation Committee, where he will make more than $100,000 a year, according to the governor's office.
"There's definitely a political angle" to the picks, but that's to be expected, Miller said. "This is raw politics."
Some Republicans seemed ready to cut the new governor a break, noting that Taylor is well qualified for the job and that Miller is a key to the governor's slots proposal.
"I think political deals have to be made," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris (Baltimore County), deputy minority whip. "Bob is not going to be able to change the culture of Annapolis in two months."
Still, shortly before yesterday's session, the governor's legislative crew was doing damage control, trying to reassure annoyed Republicans, some of whom found out at the last minute. "It could have been handled better," said chief lobbyist Kenneth H. Masters. Taylor's appointment certainly buys Ehrlich some goodwill in the General Assembly, said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who considers Taylor his mentor. But he doubted it would make much difference in terms of how people vote, particularly on the contentious issue of slot machine gambling.
"I don't think that anyone should read anything into this. It's the right place for [Taylor], and he brings a tremendous amount of expertise," Busch said. "I understand there's a political nature to this, but I don't think it will be the driving force behind why someone votes for slots."
Among the Republicans to win appointments were Christopher West, who has served as the state GOP's chief legal counsel, and Lois Ann S. Hug, the wife of chief fundraiser Richard Hug, who helped Ehrlich's gubernatorial campaign raise more than $10 million. Both were appointed to the state arts council. A GOP committeeman, Richard P. Taylor, won a spot on the state aviation commission, and Ilona Hogan, is slated to serve on the Higher Education Commission. She is the wife of former GOP congressman Larry Hogan Sr. and stepmother of Hogan Jr.
Ehrlich's administration said 20 percent of the appointees are minorities, including Maria C. TorresQueral of Baltimore, a former college professor who would be the first Hispanic on the State Board of Education.