Local and state Republican leaders recalled Wednesday a tense period of about 30 hours as they scrambled to find someone to put on the primary election ballot after the sudden death Sunday of incumbent state Sen. Wayne Norman.
“It just ripped us all apart,” Chad Shrodes, a Harford County councilman and member of the Republican Central Committee of Harford County, said during a during a joint special meeting of the Republican Central committees of Harford and Cecil counties.
The two committees met in the training room of the Fallston Volunteer Fire & Ambulance Company’s main station on Carrs Mill Road in Fallston to discuss how to proceed in nominating candidates to serve out the remainder of Norman’s term that ends next January. The legislative District 35 Norman represented covers most of northern Harford County and northern and western Cecil County.
Jason Gallion, whom the Maryland Republican Party designated Monday to talk Sen. Norman’s place on the primary election ballot, also attended the session.
Gallion talked about having to act quickly when asked to file as a candidate. He said he talked and prayed about it with his wife, whom he said he gave the choice to “veto” his candidacy.
“I had very little time to make a decision,” he said.
But Gallion said he had the support of his family so he went ahead with filing.
Gallion talked about his history of being involved in political campaigns going back to when he was a teenager in the 1990s. He has had unsuccessful runs for Harford County Council and state delegate, the most recent being in 2014, when he ran third in a three-way Republican primary for two delegate seats in Harford Subdistrict 35B. The eventual winners were Teresa Reilly and Andrew Cassilly.
He sat next to Reilly and her husband, Jim, the clerk of Circuit Court for Harford County, during the meeting.
Gallion read a message he said he received from Norman in May of 2014, after Gallion had congratulated the senator on Norman’s campaign that year.
“You get better every day with your speaking abilities, and I mean that,” wrote Norman, who referred to Gallion as “amigo.”
“Some folks never get it,” the note continued. “If you speak from the heart it should come naturally. If you have to think about what you need to say, just go home.”
Norman, who was 62, died in his sleep at his Bel Air home Sunday. He had served in the Senate since January 2015 and was unopposed for re-election.
Norman’s funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa. A number of legislators and other dignitaries from around the state as well as from Harford and Cecil counties are expected to attend, according to the Harford County’s Sheriff’s Office, which is handling traffic control and media relations.
Republican leaders had to push to put someone on the ballot while grieving the loss of the well-liked and respected legislator. They had been informed by the Maryland Board of Elections and the Office of the Attorney General, as established in state election law, that if they did not file a candidate by this past Monday at 5 p.m., they would not have a candidate at all.
“I don’t know what we could have done differently, but it’s just hard to transition into something like that when you’re grieving,” Shrodes said.
He commended Jeff McBride, chairman of the Harford central committee, and Diane Carabetta, chair of the Cecil central committee, for their leadership during the crisis.
“It’s so darn difficult when you lose a friend like Wayne,” Shrodes said.
“We were dealing with … a 30-hour window … where we didn’t know the full situation,” Patrick O’Keefe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said.
The state party designated Gallion to be on the primary ballot, despite objections about having no additional time to allow other interested Republicans to file. No Democratic candidates filed to run for the seat prior to the regular primary deadline Feb. 27.
The central committee members discussed their own frustrations and what to do moving forward. O’Keefe said it would be up to the Maryland General Assembly to make changes in the law to handle situations such as the sudden death of a candidate.
“I think that this is a learning experience for all of us ... we can see what … transpired so that we can propose rules changes at the state [level],” said Patrick McGrady, Aberdeen’s mayor and Harford GOP central committee member.
The two central committees went into closed executive session to discuss the longer process of nominating someone to fill the remainder of Norman’s term. They have up to 30 days to send nominations to the governor, who will then appoint one nominee to fill out the term.
Gallion could be one of the nominees considered. He did not indicate Wednesday if he would apply, and the committees did not make a decision on nominations.
He declined to say who encouraged him to file for the election. He said he had earlier spoken with McBride, the Harford GOP chairman.
“I had private discussions with a few people,” he said when pressed for an answer by one of the central committee members.
Following Wednesday’s executive sessions, each committee said it will send nominees to Gov. Larry Hogan.
Carabetta, the Cecil chair, said she and her committee will meet at the end of this week and should vote on their nominees over the weekend.
McBride declined to say anything about his committee’s plans, out of respect for the late senator’s family, ahead of the funeral Friday.
Harford council tributes
Each member of the Harford County Council paid tribute to Norman during the council’s legislative session Tuesday.
“Many of us in the Harford County community are saddened by the sudden passing of Wayne Norman,” Council President Richard Slutzky said.
Councilman Mike Perrone described the senator as “one of the good ones” and said his thoughts and prayers will be with the senator’s widow, Linda Norman.
Councilman Joe Woods, who serves on the Maryland Association of Counties’ legislative committee and has made regular visits to Annapolis during this year’s legislative session, talked about how much he enjoyed meeting and talking with Norman while in the state capital.
“He’s definitely my buddy,” said Woods, who said Norman provided a “break” from having to deal with the political machinations in the State House.
Councilman James McMahan said Norman was one of the first people he talked with when he initially considered running for elected office. McMahan is a candidate for state delegate this year.
“He said, ‘Remember, if you get elected, you’re working for the people; secondly keep your principles about you; and thirdly, remember to smile,” McMahan recalled.
Councilman Patrick Vincenti said “it’s hard to imagine Harford County without Wayne Norman.”
Councilman Curtis Beulah said Norman also gave him advice when he considered running for office, stressing integrity, serving the people and doing the right thing.
“We will miss him, but he will never be forgotten in my heart,” Beulah said.