A top aide to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has accused House Speaker Michael E. Busch of trying to pressure Attorney General Brian Frosh to rule that Hogan’s order to start the school year after Labor Day was illegal.
Within days after Hogan (R) issued his Aug. 31 executive order, Busch (D-Anne Arundel) called Frosh to discuss how long it would take for the attorney general’s office to review the order and opine on whether Hogan overreached.
The Baltimore Sun, whose reporter overheard Busch’s end of the conversation, wrote that Busch told the attorney general that he would set a bad precedent if his office did not determine that Hogan’s action was illegal.
“You’re going to empower this guy to continue to roll out these executive orders rather than propose legislation,” Busch reportedly told Frosh, a fellow Democrat and former state lawmaker.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer characterized the call on Friday as “partisan lobbying” and said the discussion “raises questions of propriety, and we hope it isn’t having undue influence on the ability to render impartial legal analysis.”
Busch said Tuesday that he “did not pressure” Frosh. “I can’t influence anything,” he added.
He said he could not recall the specifics of the conversation but had called to find out the time frame for lawmakers to receive the legal advice they were seeking from Frosh’s office.
“I’m not a lawyer. I thought it would come back quickly,” Busch said. “He told me it was more complex.”
Lawmakers received a letter from Frosh’s office late Friday afternoon that said Hogan may have exceeded his authority in taking control of the school calendar from local jurisdictions.
The letter also said the General Assembly, where Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both chambers, could pass a law blocking Hogan’s order if lawmakers so choose.
When reporters called Mayer for comment, he questioned whether Frosh’s office had acted independently, citing the Busch-Frosh conversation that had been reported in the Sun.
On Tuesday, Mayer said Busch was “putting political pressure on another elected official to stop it. . . . He wasn’t advising him to follow the law. It wasn’t ‘do your due diligence.’ It was ‘you have to stop this guy.’ And that sounds like political pressure.”
Alexandra Hughes, Busch’s chief of staff, said the speaker had been inundated with calls in the days after Hogan’s order, with county officials, superintendents and delegates wanting to know whether the governor’s move was legal.
“He wanted to know: What’s our timing here? What’s going on?” Hughes said, explaining the call to Frosh.
Hughes said she did not know what the rest of the conversation entailed.
“I don’t think it’s unfair for anyone to ask the attorney general what the timing would be or to even give their opinion” about the executive order, she said. “I don’t think that is lobbying.”
Frosh declined in an interview to discuss conversations he has with clients, which for him include Busch, Hogan and other state government officials.
He said that the letter from his office, which was signed by Adam D. Snyder, chief counsel in the Division of Opinions and Advice, was a “collaborative effort” and that “politics didn’t play a role.”
“It wasn’t a situation in which I leaned in and said, ‘You have to come out one way or another,’ ” Frosh said. If politics had been a factor, he added, the advice “would not have been as balanced as it is.”