Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) continued to fill out his Cabinet on Tuesday, tapping Van T. Mitchell, a former lawmaker and a high-ranking official in the previous Republican administration, to lead his health department.
Hogan also named secretaries of the state’s departments of Environment, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Minority Affairs, as well as its leader of the National Guard. The appointees are subject to Senate confirmation.
During the 2003-2007 tenure of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), Mitchell served as deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the state’s largest agency. Mitchell, who has worked as an Annapolis lobbyist in recent years, was previously a Democratic delegate representing Charles County.
His selection as health secretary was praised by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who said Hogan was wise to tap someone who knows how to work with the legislature and is familiar with the diverse programs of “a large, cumbersome agency” that gets a sizable portion of its funding from the federal government.
With state budget shortfalls looming, one of Mitchell’s tasks will be to find savings in state spending on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, and other programs administered by the department. He will also be tasked with any adjustments Hogan seeks in how Maryland is implementing federal health-care reform.
Hogan, who will take office Jan. 21, also named:
■Ben Grumbles as secretary of the environment. Grumbles is currently president of the U.S. Water Alliance, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. He previously led Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality and served as assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency under former president George W. Bush.
● Charles Evans Jr. as secretary of natural resources. Evans served as assistant secretary of the department during Ehrlich’s tenure. Hogan introduced him as “the grandfather” of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, an Ehrlich initiative signed into law in 2004 to upgrade Maryland’s wastewater treatment plants.
● Joseph Bartenfelder as secretary of agriculture. Bartenfelder is a former Democratic state delegate and a former member of the Baltimore County Council. Hogan said he has balanced public service with farming for many years.
■Jimmy Rhee as special secretary of minority affairs. Rhee is a former assistant secretary of commerce in Virginia government. Hogan said Rhee would be the first Korean American to hold a Cabinet-level position in Maryland.
● Brig. Gen. Linda Singh as adjutant general, the leader of the state’s National Guard. Singh was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in 2013 to lead the Maryland Army National Guard. She was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 for a year and has a compelling personal story, Hogan said, including a stretch during her adolescence when she was homeless.
With his latest picks, Hogan is nearly halfway toward filling out his Cabinet. He previously had named four Cabinet members and two full-time senior staffers in his administration. Among the major personnel selections that remain are budget and transportation secretaries.
Hogan has pledged to set up a bipartisan administration, and Tuesday’s announcement offered more evidence of his willingness to appoint Democrats to his team. The Democrats he has named have come from the more conservative wing of the party. None hails from Montgomery or Prince George’s counties, the state’s two largest Democratic jurisdictions.
Environmental and health-care activists said Tuesday that Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman, has selected people with reputations for working with people on both sides of the aisle. Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, cited Grumbles as an example.
“The environmental community didn’t love everything that happened under the Bush Environmental Protection Agency,” she said. “But [Grumbles] was approachable, and you could work with him.”
Raettig also said Evans and Bartenfelder are known as moderates who are easy to work with.
Vincent DeMarco, an advocate for expanding health care coverage, said he has known Mitchell for years and called him “a good, decent person.”
DeMarco said that he understands Mitchell’s department will have to trim spending. “We just hope that budget cutting doesn’t come in a way that hurts people,” he said.
Mitchell has worked in recent years at Manis Canning & Associates, an Annapolis lobbying firms with clients that include several health-care interests.
Also on Tuesday, Hogan met with O’Malley to talk about homeland security issues. Aides have said the two men plan to meet several more times as part of the transition process.