A SCUFFLE in Maryland over Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s appointments to Cabinet-level positions, and the Democrat-dominated legislature’s ability to block them, has escalated into a partisan brawl. The governor is convinced, with reason, that Democrats are intent on embarrassing him ahead of next year’s gubernatorial elections. As presidents have also done, Mr. Hogan has made recess appointments to skirt legislative obstruction, insisting on his prerogative to fill Cabinet vacancies.
In this particular fight, the lawmakers appear to hold a trump card — namely, their ability to block payment of the contested appointees’ salaries. That may seem underhanded; it also appears to be legal.
The tussle in Annapolis is the latest instance of Democrats seeking to thwart Mr. Hogan, a Republican whose popularity in a heavily blue state owes much to his personal appeal — including his courage when diagnosed with cancer — and his willingness to defy President Trump. Democrats, frustrated at their inability to dent Mr. Hogan’s armor, are spoiling for a fight.
That they picked this one is partly Mr. Hogan’s own fault, because the two appointments in question are unimpressively qualified.
One, Wendi Peters, the governor’s choice to lead the Department of Planning, worked for more than two decades in local government in the little town of Mount Airy (pop. 9,300), north of Rockville, where she served on the town council and planning commission, while working as a paralegal in Baltimore. That’s thin preparation to lead planning functions at the state level, where she manages a department of 130 employees and a $30 million budget, and it pales in comparison with the résumé of her predecessor, David Craig, also nominated by Mr. Hogan, who had been Harford County executive, a state senator and delegate and four-term mayor of Havre de Grace.
The other appointee, Dennis R. Schrader, an engineer by training who leads the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is more heavily credentialed and did hold a senior position at University of Maryland Medical System, but his background reflects more expertise in emergency preparedness and facilities management than health policy.
When both nominations ran into trouble in the state Senate, Mr. Hogan withdrew them, only to reappoint them after the legislature adjourned in April. The attorney general’s office said the governor was probably entitled to make the recess appointments, even if doing so “frustrates the evident design of the Maryland Constitution” with its provisions for legislative consent. However, the office concluded, the legislature is on even more solid ground in imposing conditions on appropriated money — in this case blocking salaries for the two nominees starting last week.
Mr. Hogan, undeterred, insists he is standing by his appointments, but the state treasurer, Nancy Kopp, whose office disburses paychecks to state employees, has stopped paying them, citing the advice from Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat. Both sides may have a principle to stand on, but in this case Democrats may have the last word.