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Democrats tell Hogan ‘to put on big boy pants’

ANNAPOLIS — Democrats Wednesday leveled stinging criticism at Gov. Larry Hogan over growing frustrations with what they say is a lack of participation by state agencies in legislative hearings.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, said he and other members of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs were upset Tuesday after one agency failed to appear at a hearing on a bill that would establish liability for an environmental problem in Kent County. Pinsky, the vice chairman of that committee, said the governor, through his agencies, was “absent without leave” and called on Hogan to have his agencies be present to answer questions.

“It seems it’s a coordinated effort from the second floor to not offend anybody, I guess, but I don’t know why they don’t put on their big boy pants and big girl pants and take a position,” said Pinsky. “We agree to disagree every day. We’ve done it all day. We’ve voted differently on issues but, one, we don’t know where they stand and, two, they’re not there to help us in our deliberations.”

Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-Upper Shore and the Senate Minority whip and sponsor of the bill in question, nodded his head briefly as Pinsky spoke.

Hershey did not speak on the issue Wednesday.

The comments drew equally strong words from Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, who said the complaints “are just not true.”

“It’s a giant steaming pile of baloney between two pieces of moldy political bread,” Mayer said.

The complaints at times also come from Hogan’s own party. Mayer didn’t exempt Republican legislators from his pointed words.

“My comments are bipartisan in nature just like this administration,” Mayer said. “It really is clear that Hogan Derangement Syndrome is rapidly spreading through the General Assembly, and I’d advise them to seek medical attention immediately.”

In an interview published Monday, Hershey said Republican legislators tried to address concerns with Hogan earlier in the year and thought things were getting better.

“It was recognized by a few members of our caucus earlier in the session,” Hershey said in the interview. “We brought it to the attention of the administration that we would like to see a little bit more participation in some of the bill hearings. Not on all the bills, not each and every bill but certainly some of the higher-profile pieces of legislation.”

On Wednesday, Pinsky’s frustrations spilled out.

“When we had questions on the issue, they weren’t there to testify,” Pinsky said. “They sent a written letter, fairly full of obfuscation in other parts of it. But they weren’t there to answer our questions. Our committee, both Democrats and Republicans, had one of (our) arms tied behind our backs. We couldn’t get to the details or the information that we sought.”

Legislators of both parties have privately and not so privately grumbled for more than a month about the lack of participation from state agencies. In many cases, bills receive only letters of information with no position on the bill. More frequently, agencies do not testify on bills or answer questions even when representatives are in the committee rooms observing the hearings.

“We must have had 200 of these letters from (state) agencies,” Pinsky said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Wednesday that the issue was becoming a problem for lawmakers and compared it to the era of Democratic former Gov. Harry R. Hughes.

“(Hughes) said the legislature is the policymaking body. He was very stand-0ffish as well,” Miller said. “If you want to take the position, fine. But yesterday at Turf Valley (Hogan) was very critical of the General Assembly … the entire General Assembly is not being business friendly and not moving forward on business-friendly initiatives.”

Hogan, at a Tuesday luncheon with business leaders hosted by Maryland Business for Responsive Government, called on business owners to step up their lobbying of legislators on issues that concern them.

Miller said it would have been nice if Commerce Secretary Michael Gill had appeared at a hearing last month on bills stemming from recommendations made by the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission — more commonly known as the Augustine Commission.

“It would be nice to have a point of view from the administration on what their views are on this subject,” Miller said.

Reaction from Republican lawmakers on the Senate floor was mixed.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore County and the leader of his party in the Senate, gave a less than full-throated defense of Hogan.

“I just want to defend the men and women who work in these departments,” Jennings said.. “I don’t think (Pinsky) meant anything when he said, kind of questioned their intelligence or their ability to know these issues in depth. These men and women are highly vetted for these positions and highly qualified I ask that we not attack them on an individual basis. With regards to these departments coming in to our committees, I think it’s up to us to ask for their opinion. I don’t want to go down that road on this. I just wanted to get up and defend those individuals.”

Other Republicans chastised their Democratic colleagues for not expecting government under Hogan, a Republican, to be different than what it was under Democratic former Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“I realize we just came off eight years with a governor who liked to inject his personal views into everything we all do in life, but personally I find it refreshing that we have a governor who actually understands the concept of separation of powers. We’re the deliberative body,” said Sen. Robert G. “Bob” Cassilly, R-Harford County. “We’re supposed to represent the knowledge of the people, the will of the people and his job is to govern.”

Cassilly said no one complained about the lack of involvement by the governor’s office on the budget that the Senate gave preliminary approval to a little more than an hour earlier.

“I think we recognize a fundamental difference here between a political philosophy that says, ‘Let me tell you how to wipe your nose,’ versus a philosophy that says, ‘We believe in the independence of people and liberties and that the best course of driving society is to unleash people, unleash the private sector to actually grow our economy and get things done,'” Cassilly said. “So, I just reject the idea that we should expect the administration to chime in every time on everything.”