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(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Hot over Hogan speech, Senate freezes confirmations

ANNAPOLIS — Confirmation votes on five of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s Cabinet secretaries were put on hold Friday for at least a week after some state senators expressed concerns about the tone and message of the governor’s State of the State speech.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore City and a member of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, asked for the delay.

“The governor clearly articulated the dire straits he thought the state was in,” McFadden, the president pro tem of the Senate, said following the Senate session. “He continued to emphasize that we can do better when making decisions and choices and that falls not only to us but those who represent the various agencies.”

McFadden tied the delay directly to Hogan’s speech but said some legislators were angry about Hogan’s budget and his proposal to cut agency spending by 2 percent across the board, eliminate promised 2 percent raises for state employees and cut $140 million in a non-mandatory education funding formula.

McFadden said that a number of questions were raised about some nominees, and senators wanted more time to review the candidates.

“We’re looking at everyone,” McFadden said.

Hogan, through a spokeswoman, said he hopes to continue to work with Democratic legislators.

“As Gov. Hogan said numerous times in his State of the State address, and in nearly every other speech since his inauguration, working with both Democrats and Republicans in a bipartisan fashion will be the only way we truly move Maryland forward,” said Shareese Churchill. “The fact is, many great accomplishments have only been achieved after tough negotiations, and that is exactly what we are expecting the outcome here to be as well.”

The Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted Monday night to recommend confirmation of more than 20 total appointments including: Budget Secretary-designee David R. Brinkley; Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary-Designee Van T. Mitchell; Department of Licensing, Labor and Regulation Secretary-designee Kelly Schulz; Planning Secretary-Designee David Craig; and Veterans Affairs Secretary-designee George W. Owings.

The remaining 15 nominees include judicial appointments to the Court of Special Appeals, Circuit and District Courts — all made by former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley.

The exact nature of the concerns being raised on the day of the vote and the identities of the senators who have concerns was not immediately known. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery and chairman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, declined to elaborate on either.

“I know (McFadden) and some other senators want to bear down on some policy specifics in light of the changed circumstances of the week,” Raskin said, referring to Hogan’s speech Wednesday. “The temperature has gone up in the city of Annapolis.”

The committee interviewed all 20 nominees over the course of a one-hour meeting that was mostly light-hearted and included joking between senators and nominees.

But a Senate source said that spirit changed dramatically around 1 p.m. on Wednesday following a State of the State address given by Hogan in which he criticized taxes passed over the last eight years and the state’s poor business climate. Most Democrats sat quietly during the speech.

Afterward, House Speaker Michael E. Busch said many members felt as if Hogan was “speaking down” to them.

McFadden said the State of the State speech will likely have ripple effects on the tone of future confirmation hearings, including one scheduled for Monday night.

“We heard the speech 48 hours (after the confirmation hearing) and that kind of set the tone for us utilizing, in a more effective manner, the advise-and-consent powers that the founders of the state entrusted us with,” McFadden said.

Craig, the former state senator and Harford County Executive, was in the gallery as the Senate voted to delay his confirmation.

The delay surprised some Republicans, including Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties and the Senate Minority Leader.

Jennings said following the meeting that he only learned of the delay on the floor and said he had no information on which senators had concerns or on the details of the concerns.