Maryland Democrats are accusing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration of reneging on a deal to consult them about appointments to the State Board of Elections and, in the process, ousting the only black member from the panel.
In a decision that took legislative leaders by surprise, Ehrlich (R) on Thursday named Gene Raynor of Baltimore, a former state elections chief and longtime associate of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), to one of the board's two seats reserved for Democrats.
In doing so, Ehrlich increased the odds that the board could replace elections administrator Linda H. Lamone, a holdover from the administration of former governor Parris N. Glendening (D), Democrats said yesterday.
He also effectively ended the tenure of board member Bobbie S. Mack, a former elections official in Prince George's County.
Mack was appointed to the five-member state panel three months ago to serve out the term of another member. She and Senate Democrats said they expected Ehrlich to nominate her this month to a full four-year term based on a deal brokered with the governor's office.
"She was able to give a voice to the needs of the community," said Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's). "Now we have a commission that does not reflect the state at all because it's all white."
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver dismissed the contention as "ridiculous," and another Ehrlich aide said Senate Democrats had mischaracterized a deal cut during the past legislative session.
"It's a total, absolute fabrication on their part," said Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., Ehrlich's secretary of appointments.
Hogan suggested that Democrats were ruffled because the governor had appointed a Democrat allied with Schaefer rather than with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).
Schaefer, a former two-term governor, has often aligned himself with Ehrlich, and many of his former staff members have gone to work for the Republican.
The deal, all parties agree, led the Senate to shelve legislation that would have given lawmakers authority to approve or disapprove the selection of the board's full-time administrator, who is hired by board members.
Hogan said the only condition agreed to by the governor's office was the withdrawal of a single Democratic elections board nominee unpopular among Democratic Senate leaders.
Sen. Philip C. Jimeno (D-Anne Arundel), chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, offered a very different account of the deal, which he helped to broker. He said the administration agreed to consult with Democratic leaders about appointments to the Democratic seats on the board. Given that understanding, Jimeno said he was "saddened and surprised" that Ehrlich had not reappointed Mack.
"That was an arrangement we made in March with the governor's office," Jimeno said of the deal, first reported in the Baltimore Sun yesterday.
Democrats said they considered the episode particularly troubling given rumors last year that Ehrlich was maneuvering to replace Lamone with Michael W. Burns, a former Republican delegate from Anne Arundel County.
Democrats charged that such an appointment would make the board too open to partisan manipulation. Burns was rebuked in 1988 by national GOP officials after he authored a controversial fundraising letter that linked Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis to paroled killer Willie Horton.
"He'd be a Katherine Harris in Maryland," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), referring to the Florida elections chief who presided over the state's controversial 2000 presidential election, which was decided in favor of George W. Bush. "We don't want to see Maryland's election board pushed down to the level of Florida's."
Removing Lamone would require the consent of four of the panel's five members. Democrats said they fear Raynor's arrival makes that prospect more likely.
Raynor said in an interview that he considers Lamone "as political as you can get" but would reserve judgment until he has spent some time on the board.
Raynor's appointment must be taken up by the Senate for confirmation. But because the Senate is in recess, he is allowed to serve until the body returns in January and votes.
Frosh predicted a rough road ahead, particularly if Raynor participates in an attempt to oust Lamone before then. "Unless something changes, he's going to have a rocky time in the confirmation process," Frosh said.
Mack said she is concerned that the board may not be sensitive enough to issues such as minority access to polls after she departs.
Raynor said he had a long history of showing sensitivity to minority voters. "I did voter registration with Dr. Martin Luther King," he said.
Raynor worked for the Baltimore City Board of Elections from 1957 to 1987, serving as administrator in the latter part of his tenure. He was administrator of the State Board of Elections from 1987 to 1996.
He said yesterday that he was surprised by the reaction to his appointment. "I thought it would be no problem at all, that they would appreciate someone with a lot of experience," Raynor said.