Hogan nominee to Maryland school board withdraws after rocky hearing

One of Gov. Hogan's nominees to the State Board of Education withdrew after a rocky Senate hearing.

One of Gov. Larry Hogan's nominees to the State Board of Education withdrew from consideration Tuesday after a rocky Senate committee hearing.

Brandon F. Cooper, the 28-year-old chairman of the Prince George's County Republican Central Committee, dropped his bid to join the school board after majority Democrats on the Senate Executive Nominations Committee grilled him Monday night over his previous traffic offenses, personal finances, qualifications and affiliation with a conservative group that promotes alternatives to traditional public schools.

During his hearing, Cooper tried to explain his views on public education and a record that includes unpaid taxes, an arrest for drunk driving and failures to appear in court on that and other traffic charges.

After the hearing, some members of the committee said Cooper's nomination was in trouble.

A spokeswoman for Hogan, a Republican, confirmed Cooper's withdrawal but offered no further comment.

Cooper said later that he was "disheartened by the narrative being pushed that I am a criminal and tax cheat."

"I made a mistake and paid the consequences," he said in an email. "My traffic court cases are closed and behind me. My back taxes are in payment plan." 

Democrats in the General Assembly have said they are concerned that Hogan has tried to use school board appointments to change state education policy when that couldn't be achieved through legislation. Lawmakers have expressed concern about several of the governor's nominees to the 12-member panel.

Cooper's toughest questioner Monday night was Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a member of the Senate committee.

"How can you make decisions for the state of Maryland when you don't pay your taxes to the state of Maryland?" Miller asked. The Calvert County Democrat was referring to Cooper's record of having tax liens filed against him by the Office of the Comptroller.

Cooper explained that he ran into trouble when he was working as an independent contractor and didn't realize that taxes were not being withheld from his payments. He said he has worked with the Comptroller's Office to resolve his tax bill and is now on a payment plan.

But Miller said there were still pending judgments against Cooper.

"These judgments haven't been dismissed. They're still in effect," Miller said.

"There was not an intent not to pay taxes," Cooper said.

Miller then challenged Cooper on his record of falling behind on rent. He pointed to a record of Cooper receiving eviction notices from landlords between 2009 and 2016.

"I'm current on my rent," Cooper assured the committee.

Miller said afterward that he was troubled by Cooper's record.

"Anybody that doesn't pay their taxes should not be seeking appointment to hold public office in the state of Maryland," Miller said. The Senate president had no comment Tuesday on Cooper's withdrawal.

Cooper told the committee that he was raised in Ohio in a household led by a single mother before moving to Washington to attend Howard University. He said his life experience had prepared him to serve on the school board.

But Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, quizzed him about a bench warrant issued in 2010 after Cooper failed to appear in court on a charge of driving on a suspended license.

Court records also show that Cooper was arrested in 2013 for driving under the influence of alcohol. After initially failing to appear for trial and having his license suspended, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of driving while impaired and was given probation before judgment.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, chairman of the committee, said after the hearing that he was troubled by what he called Cooper's lack of experience in education policy. The Baltimore Democrat said Tuesday that Cooper had "made the right decision for this point in his career."

Like other Democrats, Ferguson questioned how thoroughly the Governor's Office had vetted the Cooper nomination.

"I hope we can avoid similar circumstances in the future," Ferguson said.

Cooper said he had been "very transparent" with the Senate and the Governor's Office had known about his background. He vowed to continue to be involved in public life.

"I'm not discouraged and I'm going to continue to improve my community in other capacities," he said.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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