The Maryland Senate delayed the confirmation of five nominees to Gov. Larry Hogan's Cabinet on Friday, the latest sign of growing tension between the new Republican governor and Democrats who dominate the legislature.
The delay comes two days after Democrats panned Hogan's State of the State speech as an affront to bipartisanship.
"The temperature has gone up in Annapolis this week, and a number of senators are embracing their 'advise and consent' role with greater intensity," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who chairs the Executive Nominations Committee.
Last week, the nominations of the five appointees passed Raskin's committee without discussion. But the tone in Annapolis shifted after Hogan's address Wednesday emphasized ways that Maryland had fallen short over the past eight years.
Many in the Democrat-controlled legislature said they considered Hogan's speech offensive, and said it threatened to fray a delicate relationship with the governor just two weeks into the legislative session. In particular, Democrats said, it undermined what trust existed between the General Assembly and Hogan.
"Tensions are high," said Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican. "Everything had been moving along great the past two weeks. Wednesday we had the State of the State, the governor gave his honest opinion ... and it ruffled some feathers."
On Friday, Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, suggested that nomination votes be delayed by a week to allow more scrutiny of some of the nominees. Asked by reporters whether Hogan's speech had anything to do with the delay, McFadden responded: "One could say that.
"The speech certainly didn't help," McFadden said. "We began this whole process, the [Senate] president leading us, in bipartisanship, cooperation and building a better Maryland. The speech indicated, obviously, we didn't do in the last eight years a credible job. Those who fail to learn the history are doomed to repeat it."
He added: "One has to respond."
McFadden, the Senate president pro tem, declined to identify which of Hogan's nominees deserved more scrutiny. Raskin also declined to elaborate.
But McFadden said Maryland deserved the best Cabinet secretaries possible since they are coming into a "strained situation" that includes budget cuts and workers frustrated about losing a raise.
"The message will go out to those who will come before us in the future: We will thoroughly vet."
Jennings said he and other Republicans are taking the Democrats at their word that the delay was motivated by a desire to further review some nominees, and said delay allowed for cooler heads to prevail.
"I also think this could be a message to Hogan, after the State of the State, that they were slowing things down a little," Jennings said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who also declined to identify which nominees faced additional scrutiny, said it was better to wait a week "rather than air on the floor" some lawmakers' concerns.
The group of five included Hogan's nominees for budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, and health secretary, Van T. Mitchell. Also on the list: George W. Owings for veterans affairs, Kelly Schulz for labor and David Craig for planning. They were the first to reach the full Senate for consideration. Another seven Hogan nominees are scheduled for committee hearings Monday evening.
Hogan's staff reiterated that the governor hopes and strives for bipartisanship, but that he realistically expects friction.
"As Governor Hogan said numerous times in his State of the State address, and in nearly every other speech since his inauguration, working with both Democrats and Republicans in a bipartisan fashion will be the only way we truly move Maryland forward," Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said in a statement.
"The fact is, many great accomplishments have only been achieved after tough negotiations, and that is exactly what we are expecting the outcome here to be as well," Mayer said.
Hogan's legislative staff hosted an open house Friday to present his legislative ideas and encourage lawmakers to co-sponsor some of the governor's seven bills. Few Democrats took him up on the offer.
"We got one!" joked Republican Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., the minority whip, as he left the reception room.
A handful of Democratic lawmakers signed on to Hogan's proposal to end automatic increases in the gas tax, and more than a half-dozen signed on to a plan to offer tax credits to people who donate to private or parochial schools.
Keiffer Mitchell, a Democrat and former lawmaker who joined Hogan's staff as a senior adviser, pointed to the Democrats who agreed to be co-sponsors.
"See that? We're all about bipartisanship," Mitchell said. "I'm not giving up. I'm still working on my friends."