The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee on Thursday overwhelmingly nominated establishment favorite Del. Craig J. Zucker to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate, despite complaints from some Democrats in the county that the process should have been more open.
“I don’t think elected officials should have the ability to name their own replacement,” said Wilbur Malloy, a precinct captain in Senate District 14, referring to heavy support that Zucker received from party leaders who included former senator Karen S. Montgomery, whose resignation at the start of the year opened the seat Zucker would fill
“If you’re elected by Montgomery County residents, then your replacement should be elected by Montgomery County residents,” Malloy said.
If Zucker (D-Montgomery) is appointed to the seat by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), he will immediately play what could be a critical role in a significant vote: whether to override Hogan’s veto of a 2015 bill that would allow felons to vote while they are still on parole or probation.
Hogan has until Feb. 5 to act on the nomination, and the Senate has scheduled its override vote for that day.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has said that the chamber may need Montgomery’s successor in place in order to muster the 29 votes necessary to overturn the veto. The House of Delegates voted to override it Wednesday, with Zucker voting in favor.
Zucker, a member of the House Appropriations Committee who serves as chairman of the Health and Human Resources Subcommittee, vowed that in the Senate he would be a champion of women’s reproductive rights, new immigrants and improving low-income neighborhoods in Maryland.
He also promised the county Democratic Central Committee and about 30 other people gathered inside a meeting room in Kensington that he would be a reliable vote for overriding Hogan’s vetoes.
“We all stood with each other yesterday when we overrode the governor’s veto and allowed people access to vote,” he said. “If you send me to the Senate, I might have a chance to . . . do the same thing on the other side.”
In addition to being endorsed by Montgomery, Zucker also received support from Miller, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and a host of other elected officials.
But at least one other Democrat in the county — Herman Taylor, a former state delegate — also expressed interest in the Senate seat, and the head of the county NAACP said last month that she was “uncomfortable with long-term negotiations” that led to a “pre-arranged slate.”
“Any opening should be posted, and candidates should be required to make their case to the community and the committee,” county NAACP President Linda Plummer said in a Dec. 8 letter to the county Democratic committee.
Taylor, who served as a delegate from Montgomery County from 2003 to 2011, did his best to win over committee members Thursday night by recalling his experience as a former House member and, now, the managing director of a nonprofit economic council for minority-owned businesses.
When some committee members asked both candidates for their opinion about the process, Taylor said he was disappointed in the way it was handled.
“There’s not a lot of people that stepped forward to apply.” Taylor said. “I decided to step forward because I wanted to give this body that is trying to do its work another option.”
Zucker, who was nominated by a vote of 22 to 2, defended the support he received, saying he lobbied other Democrats heavily. “I work hard for my constituents,” he said. “And, when I saw this opportunity, I worked hard to get it.”