The Maryland Republican Party has selected Jason C. Gallion, of Harford County, to run in this year’s primary election for the District 35 Senate seat following the sudden death Sunday of incumbent Republican Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr.
The selection was made Monday under some duress, party leaders admitted. Sen. Norman, who was 62 and lived near Bel Air, died in his sleep sometime early Sunday, a family member said.
He had filed to run for a second Senate term and did not have an opponent in either the Republican primary or the November general election. The filing deadline for the primary was Feb. 27.
Sen. Norman’s district includes most of northern Harford County and northern and western Cecil County.
Gallion, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning, filed as a replacement candidate prior to a 5 p.m. Monday deadline, which the State Board of Elections set as part of its election schedule to fill vacancies after the filing deadline. No one else filed from either party Monday.
Candidates had to file in person at the Board of Elections office in Annapolis by the close of business Monday, according to Donna Duncan, assistant deputy for election policy for the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Monday is the date set in the state’s election calendar for the 2018 gubernatorial election as the deadline for party central committees to fill a vacancy on the primary ballot. The primary election is June 26 statewide.
Gallion has never held elected office but has been active in local politics. He made an unsuccessful run for House District 35B, covering northern Harford and western Cecil, in 2014. He also ran for delegate in 2010. He is the past president and past chief of the Level Volunteer Fire Company and a local farmer from the Level area north of Havre de Grace.
The state GOP’s selection of Gallion was announced in statement late Monday from Dirk Haire, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.
"Sadly, Senator Wayne Norman's sudden passing was not only a tragedy for our state, but also brought to light an oversight of state law related to the replacement of a filed candidate who dies within 10 days of the primary filing deadline,” the statement reads. “The Maryland State Board of Elections and the Attorney General took the position that a replacement on the primary ballot for Senator Norman was required to be submitted to the State Board of Elections by today [Monday] at 5 p.m. The State Board of Elections and Attorney General further took the position that no Republican candidate would be eligible to appear on the primary and general election ballot if no replacement was made by 5 p.m. today.
“The Maryland Republican Party believes the directives by the State Board of Elections and Attorney General were legally incorrect; however, rather than fight an uncertain legal battle at this tragic time and distract from the legacy of Senator Norman, the State Republican Party agreed to submit a ballot replacement to appear on the Republican primary ballot for State Senate District 35.”
No one else can file for the District 35 primary election, since the deadline has passed, according to Duncan of the State Board of Elections. A candidate who is not affiliated with a political party or is affiliated with a “non-recognized” party — any party other than Democrat, Republican, Green or Libertarian — could file to be on the general election ballot by July 2, according to the state’s elections calendar.
Such a candidate must collect petition signatures “equal to” 1 percent of the registered voters in District 35, Duncan said. That means about 956 out of 95,587 registered voters in the district, according to data on the state BOE website.
In his statement, state GOP leader Haire said party officials “urge the Maryland General Assembly to fix this insensitive and inappropriate statute immediately.”
Del. Rick Impallaria, a Republican who represents western Harford and eastern Baltimore counties in District 7, also put out a statement Monday afternoon urging Gov. Larry Hogan, legislative leaders and the administrator of the State Board of Elections to extend the filing deadline by five days so other interested Republicans and Democrats could file for District 35.
“This decision [to adhere to the deadline] was made by the State Board of Elections, through the Administrator of Elections,” Raquel Coombs, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, wrote in an email Tuesday.
Coombs said that relevant election deadlines are “set by statute, not by the State Board of Elections or the OAG.”
“The election process is very deadline oriented,” Duncan said. “It’s an orderly process that we’ll follow through to prepare the ballots and make sure that we meet all of our subsequent statutory deadlines,” she said.
Sen. Norman had about 11 months left on his four-year term, which started Jan. 14, 2015.
The governor fills a vacancy in the House or Senate, with a nominee submitted by the central committee of the political party with which the former legislator was affiliated, according to the Maryland Constitution.
The central committee must submit a nominee’s name in writing within 30 days after the vacancy occurred. If the governor does not receive a name in 30 days, they can appoint a qualified person up to 15 days after the previous deadline, according to the state constitution.
Representatives of the GOP central committees of Cecil and Harford counties are scheduled to meet in Harford Wednesday night to determine their process for selecting nominees to send to the governor, Jeff McBride, chairman of the Republican Central Committee of Harford County, said Tuesday.
“Our meeting is to review this process and make appropriate notifications and establish a timeline,” he said.
McBride acknowledged the challenge of filling Sen. Norman’s seat while people, including those on the central committees, grieve his loss.
“This was a great guy that we all worked with, and he was very active in the community, supported the party and was universally liked and appreciated in the county,” McBride said.
Funeral arrangements have been made through McComas Funeral Homes. Visitation is scheduled for noon to 8 p.m. Thursday in the New Life Center at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, and a funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, also at the New Life Center, according to the obituary, posted on the McComas website.
Mountain Christian Church is at 1802 Mountain Road in Joppa. Burial will be in Bel Air Memorial Gardens.
Sen. Norman is survived by Linda, his high school sweetheart and wife of 42 years, his son, Howard “Chip” Wayne Norman III, daughter, Ashley E. Sicher and her husband, Brian Sicher, granddaughter Adaline Sicher, his brother, Stephen Norman, and sisters, Amy Owens and Emily Meoli. He was preceded in death by his sister, Anne Hellmann, according to the obituary.
Donations can be made, in lieu of flowers, in Sen. Norman’s memory to The Arc Northern Chesapeake Region, 4513 Philadelphia Road, Aberdeen, MD 21001.
Leaders in Havre de Grace, which is part of neighboring District 34, gave tribute to Sen. Norman during Monday night’s City Council meeting.
“I hope whoever aspires to fill delegate seats and Senate seats this year can live up to the character of that man,” Mayor William T. Martin said. “He truly was a public servant and a good man and a good American.”
City Council President David Glenn announced that Gallion had been selected for the District 35 ballot to replace the deceased senator.
“I wish Jason nothing but the best, but buddy, you’ve got some tough shoes to fill,” he said.