Maryland voters have been asked to decide some weighty issues in the form of constitutional amendments and referendums in the last few years — gay marriage, casino gambling, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and more. By contrast, there is only one statewide question on the ballot this year, and you probably have heard nothing about it whatsoever. Titled "Appointments and Special Elections for Attorney General or Comptroller," it amounts to a bit of constitutional housekeeping and should be enacted.
Under current law, Maryland deals with vacancies in statewide elected offices in a variety of ways. If a governor resigns, dies or is otherwise incapable of performing his or her duties, the lieutenant governor automatically takes over. If the lieutenant governor must be replaced, the governor gets to choose a new No. 2, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of all members of the General Assembly. If the attorney general vacates office, the governor gets to choose a successor for the remainder of the term. If the comptroller must be replaced, the governor chooses a new one with the advice and consent of the Senate. All of those procedures are laid out in the state constitution.
State code provided that if a vacancy occurred in the office of U.S. senator, the governor could choose a successor who would then serve until the next regularly scheduled election (unless the vacancy occurred three weeks or less before the filing deadline for the election held in the fourth year of the term, in which case the person would serve out the remainder of the original senator's six years).
The amendment on the ballot stems from a bill sponsored by Del. David Moon, a Montgomery County Democrat, seeking to standardize procedures for senator, attorney general and comptroller. (Because the provisions relating to a senator were not in the constitution, they are not on the ballot and are already law.) First and foremost, the legislation seeks to ensure that the governor must appoint someone from the same political party as the person being replaced. Some states have such requirements and some don't, but it seems reasonable that the will of the voters is most likely to be honored if a Democrat is replaced by a Democrat or a Republican by a Republican. Members of the state central committee of the appropriate party would have 30 days to submit three names to the governor, and he or she would have 15 days to pick among them. If the office-holder is not a member of a political party, the governor can choose any person who meets the basic qualifications for the office.
For attorney general and comptroller, the amendment additionally sets up a special election system similar to that in existing law for U.S. senators. If a vacancy occurs on or before 21 days before the filing deadline during a presidential election year, a permanent replacement will be picked by voters in a special election running concurrently with the regular primary and general elections. That avoids the expense and low turnout associated with special elections in which only one office is on the ballot.
The measure didn't generate much debate in the General Assembly, but it was opposed almost uniformly by Republicans, who lumped it in with other bills during this year's legislative session that they saw as affronts to the chief executive' power that would never have been enacted if the governor was a Democrat and not Republican Larry Hogan. To be sure, there were some legitimate examples of that, but this wasn't one of them. It may have looked that way in the context of a popular Republican governor and Democrats holding the posts of attorney general and comptroller and both U.S. Senate seats, but who knows that the future may bring? Perhaps three years from now, Senator Szeliga will resign to take a post in President Trump's cabinet, and Republicans will be glad that Governor Kamenetz has to pick a member of her party to replace her.
This has come up before, but not recently. In 1912, Democratic U.S. Sen. Isidor Raynor died during the one term of Republican Gov. Phillips Lee Goldsborough, who appointed Republican William Purnell Jackson to replace him. Jackson chose not to run in the 1914 special election and was succeeded by Blair Lee I, a Democrat. There has been one vacancy in the comptroller's office in the last five decades (in 1998, when Louis L. Goldstein died). There have been a few more vacancies in the attorney general's office during that time because of appointments to appellate or federal courts. But the last vacancy came during an odd turn of events in 1979 when outgoing AG Francis B. Burch allowed his two top deputies to serve in the job one day each before his successor, Stephen H. Sachs took over. (Curiously, it was Blair Lee III, himself a replacement for Gov. Marvin Mandel, who agreed to handle the back-to-back-to-back swearings-in.)
This may not be the most burning issue of our times, but it's worth your support. We recommend voting for the amendment.