The conflict between Gov. Larry Hogan and lawmakers over appointments continues.
This time, battle lines are being drawn over appointments to the Baltimore City Liquor Board and the withdrawal of an alternate member who has ties to a powerful state senator’s campaign committee.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City and chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, vowed Monday night to block three appointments made to the Baltimore City Liquor License Board. She made the promise on the same day the governor sent word to the Senate that he was withdrawing the name of an alternate board member who also happens to be Conway’s campaign treasurer.
Conway, who at times rapped her hand on the desk for emphasis, questioned a request by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to wait until the next scheduled committee meeting to vote down the three nominees.
“What does one week do when we know that we are not going to take them. We’re absolutely not going to take them,” Conway said.
“I’m going to do something I don’t normally do because I don’t want to delay the hearing,” Conway said, “I’m going to acquiesce to your wishes. And I’m going to tell you now: The answer is ‘No, we’re never going to take them.’ I don’t know what the governor is going to offer up but based on their actions and they way that they have treated us and our constituents, I wouldn’t take them if they gave a million dollars a commissioner. They will not be approved. Will not.”
The Senate Executive Nominations Committee has been holding three Hogan appointees to the board since they met with the committee last month.
Doug Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, said the committee delay was disappointing.
“It’s really very clear that politics are playing a role in the decisions of the Executive Nominations Committee,” Mayer said. “The governor appointed them and believes they are all well-qualified and the committee decided to single them out.”
On Friday, the Senate delayed a vote on Harvey E. Jones as an alternate to the board at the request of the governor. The committee had recommended Jones’ confirmation.
Jones, according to state campaign finance records, has served as Conway’s campaign treasurer since 2010.
On Monday, Hogan withdrew Jones from consideration.
“He knew he was going to withdraw it Friday when he asked for a special order and we gave consent as a courtesy,” Conway said. “He knew then that he was going to withdraw it.”
Conway said the withdrawal was “based on the fact that we weren’t going to accept the other three commissioners. What kind of courtesy is that?”
Miller asked Conway to try and work it out with Hogan but Conway said she believed it could not be worked out.
Mayer said members of the governor’s staff would meet with her if she asked for a meeting but said the liquor board problems pre-date Hogan.
Hogan’s appointees — Benjamin A Neil, Douglas E. Trotter and Elizabeth A. Hafey — have come under increasing criticism from city residents who accuse the board of reversing decisions of previous liquor boards and siding with problem bars and liquor stores.
Conway, speaking of Hafey, said “We loved her and she was outstanding. Just based on the diversity cry that I’ve been saying since the governor was elected, every time I look up I see all white males. So, the white males, in terms of what’s happening with the Baltimore City Liquor Board, there were no diversity at all when Secretary Fielder called me. He thought I was going to say something about the former liquor board commissioner. He had no one, he said ‘senator I’m going to get you an Asian woman, we’re going to get you…’ I said: Where’s the diversity? And where’s the institutional knowledge? And when I looked up we had white males. We’re not racists and we not just going to take African Americans because there is a need for diversity. And yes we think she’s a very nice person and we would love to keep her but we will not.”
An hour after the committee meeting, Conway introduced an emergency bill that would require the governor to consider the need for geographic, political, racial, ethnic, cultural and gender diversity on the board. Conway then asked for, and was granted, a suspension of the rules that allows her to move the bill to the Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee that she chairs.
“There’s no doubt this legislation was put in because of the situation,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford Counties and the Senate Minority Leader. “She told me that personally.”
Conway and Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, say they have been inundated with emails and letters opposing the appointments.
Miller offered his own criticism of the commissioners.
“These three people, actually four people, were decent people. But they didn’t have any education in terms of what their jobs was. They had no training. There was no continuity. There was no staggered terms. A couple were just business people who came and thought they could run the liquor board like a business and you can’t. To say you’re not involved in the community. These liquor stores come out with people fighting and peeing on the lawns and stuff and that’s not their concern? That’s ridiculous. People buy a cup of ice and whiskey and come out and pour it and drink it in front, that’s their concern. They had no training in that regard whatsoever and I just think the three were a mistake but we ought to give the governor and the city senators an opportunity to rectify it.”
Miller urged the committee to give Hogan time to “gracefully withdraw these names” try and come to an agreement on new appointees with Conway and legislators from the city saying “right now, they are going to be defeated.”