It has not been a good couple of weeks for people nominated by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to lead state agencies and serve on state boards.
On Monday night, Hogan withdrew Wendi Peters’s name as his choice to head the Department of Planning, opting not to have the full Senate consider the nomination after a Senate committee rejected her as unqualified. That same committee approved Day Gardner to serve on the state Board of Physicians, but only after grilling her about whether her advocacy against doctors who provide abortions would affect her work on the board, which authorizes physicians’ licenses and investigates complaints against them.
And last week, Brandon Cooper, the governor’s selection to join the state Board of Education, withdrew his nomination after he took a hammering from state senators over his legal and financial history, which includes drunk-driving charges and state liens for nonpayment of taxes.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said that neither Peters nor Cooper was treated fairly. He also expressed frustration that the committee has not yet considered the nomination of Dennis Schrader to head the Department of Health, where he has been acting secretary since December.
“There is no reason Schrader hasn’t had a hearing,” Mayer said.
The Senate committee voted 11 to 6 against Peters’s nomination Monday night, with members saying that she lacked the planning and managerial experience to lead the state agency.
Peters was a paralegal before becoming deputy secretary of planning in 2015, and she previously served on the Mount Airy Town Council in Frederick County and on the town’s Board of Appeals and Planning Commission. She became acting secretary in July.
“Policy expertise was not a strong part of her portfolio,” said Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Senate nominations committee.
Mayer said Peters’s time in the department made her as qualified, if not more, than her predecessor, David Craig, who had been a lawmaker in the General Assembly for nine years when he first took the position.
“There seems to be a double standard,” Mayer said.
During a hearing last month, Peters was peppered with questions about her planning experience and her management style. Ferguson said the senators received letters from employees who questioned her ability and said she lacked experience.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, called Peters “eminently qualified” and accused the committee of conducting an “unfair hearing” that was an “insult” to Peters’s decades of service to her community and the state.
Also Monday, the Senate committee threw tough questions at Gardner before voting 12 to 3 to approve her nomination as a consumer member of the Board of Physicians.
Gardner, a Bowie resident, is founder of the National Black Pro Life Union. She was asked by Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) about complaints that she has filed or supported against doctors who perform abortions.
In response, Gardner said she believes that “any doctor who performs abortions and harms people probably should have their licenses revoked or be investigated.”
She later added that she would “love to see abortion not be available at all … but there is a law that we follow.”
NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and the Women’s Law Center of Maryland asked the committee to oppose Gardner’s nomination, arguing that her advocacy raises questions about her ability to serve objectively on the physician’s board if it is considering cases involving doctors who perform abortions.
“As far as this board is concerned, I didn’t see anywhere in the requirements that I had to side on one side of this issue or the other,” Gardner said at the end of the hearing.
Ferguson said the questions about her position on abortion were not being used as a “litmus test” but instead “to better understand” Gardner’s experience and how she would approach her work on the board.
On Tuesday, Diana Phillips, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, called Gardner’s nomination “absolutely unacceptable” and said her organization will be pushing for the full Senate to vote against it.
“Her activities, along with her colleagues’, have created a culture of fear and intimidation for abortion providers,” Phillips said. “There is nothing in her history that leads us to believe that she can be unbiased when it comes to setting standards of care for abortion providers or reviewing any disciplinary cases.”
Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) said he thought the questioning was inappropriate.
“The questions that are being asked are personal views,” he said. “I don’t think that carries any bearing on the requirements to this board.”