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Hogan to select Ready's replacement in House

Gov. Larry Hogan will have the sole responsibility of filling a vacant seat in the House of Delegates representing Carroll County, despite efforts by the county's Republican Central Committee's two factions to facilitate the completion of its recommendation process.

The vacancy is a result of now-Sen. Justin Ready's Feb. 2 appointment by the governor to replace former Sen. Joe Getty. This started the clock for the committee's 30-day time period to recommend someone to the governor to fill the seat, as outlined in the Maryland Constitution. The deadline was midnight Wednesday.

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Matt Helminiak, member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, said Wednesday afternoon the group would send Hogan the list of 26 applicants who applied for the vacant delegate seat, but Hogan may select anyone he wants. The committee is also notifying the applicants of the governor's impending decision.

"There are people on the list that are known quantities and well-liked by delegates and Hogan's people," Helminiak said. "I could see two or three from the list being picked pretty easily, but choosing someone not on the list would be sketchy and unlikely."

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The split in the committee was caused by Hogan's request that the group send him three names to choose from for Getty's vacant legislative seat. Getty left to take a job with Hogan's administration as his chief legislative officer.

Initially, the Carroll County Republican Central Committee recommended only former County Commissioner Robin Barlett Frazier, who failed to gain re-election in her district in June's Republican primary and again in November as a write-in candidate. Hogan's request for more names came amid community backlash over the committee's choice of Frazier.

After the committee acquiesced and voted in secret following an open meeting to submit two additional names — Ready and Dave Wallace — three members of the committee filed a lawsuit in Carroll County Circuit Court Feb. 2 against the committee as a whole requesting a court order for the committee to submit just one name. Committee members Kathy Fuller, Amy Gilford and Melissa Caudill believe the Maryland Constitution calls for only one name to be submitted.

On March 2, the Court of Appeals of Maryland — the highest court in the state — decided the lower court was correct in its denial and lifted a temporary restraining order it had placed on the committee from recommending someone to the governor.

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Following the appellate court's decision, Fuller sent a request to the other six members of the committee requesting they meet prior to the deadline to conclude the recommendation process. Fuller said she was told the other members would only agree to meet if the plaintiffs dropped the lawsuit.

While the Circuit Court and appellate court ruled to deny the plaintiffs' request for an injunction that would've prevented them from continuing with their recommendation process, Fuller said the issue concerning the correct interpretation of the state constitution in regard to how many names the committee should send to the governor has yet to be determined in the Circuit Court.

The decision by the Circuit Court, which has been halted while the plaintiffs wait for the written decision and explanation from the appellate court to be issued, would not have any effect on the committee's recommendation process for the vacant delegate seat, she said.

"Why does it matter to them if we drop the case?" Fuller said. "What is in the decision won't have an impact on what we do now."

Fuller contends the real reason the other committee members do not want to meet is because they want the governor to select someone without the interference of the committee.

"The point of not meeting is to create a template keeping us from doing our job and that's baloney," Fuller said. "If they want [Hogan] to choose then I guess they will let him choose."

Mike Stewart, attorney for the defendants in the Circuit Court case, said he advised the committee not to meet until the few "disgruntled members" withdrew their lawsuit. After the seven judges of the appellate court issued their initial agreement with the Circuit Court's decision, he and several members of the committee thought if the plaintiffs withdrew the case, they would still have enough time to complete the recommendation process.

When Fuller, Caudill and Gilford refused to do so on Monday, he thought the committee would most likely not have enough time, he said.

Stewart said he is confused as to why they refused to withdraw the lawsuit.

"It's like a horse that broke down on the track, and seven veterinarians got together and agreed the horse is going to die," he said. "The right thing to do is to euthanize the animal, just like this lawsuit."

Stewart said the plaintiffs are emotionally tied to the issue and refuse to admit they are wrong.

"In the meantime, they have done a disservice to the voters of Carroll County," he said.

Helminiak said the committee had intended to meet to conduct interviews Feb. 26, but they chose to wait until the appellate court had ruled concerning the injunction. During the days leading up to the meeting, each committee member had been tasked with identifying their top-five applicants, who were to be ranked based on the number of votes received, and the top 10 would then be interviewed.

Fuller and Gilford were making it difficult for the committee to get the number to be interviewed down to a reasonable number, Helminiak said.

"When we started to whittle it down, [Fuller and Gilford] were refusing to do that because they wanted to do that in an open meeting," he said.

Helminiak said the committee had agreed to send their top five finalists to him via email at a meeting Feb. 12. Fuller and Gilford's refusal to comply with the recommendation process, which had been clearly outlined — and their decision not to drop the lawsuit — is the reason why the governor will now solely be deciding who will represent the county in the House, he said.

"The fact that they refused to drop the case indicated they would continue to be difficult in the process," he said.

Fuller said she was advised by her attorney that if they drop the lawsuit, the appellate court might not release its written decision.

She also said their request to hold discussions concerning the finalists to be interviewed in an open meeting was an attempt to honor Hogan's request that these proceedings be held in a transparent manner. The only disservice to the voters of Carroll County has been the unnecessary delay on the part of the other committee members, she said.

The temporary restraining order placed on the committee by the appellate court only restricted them from sending recommendations to the governor, she said. It did not prevent them from meeting, conducting interviews or even voting, Fuller said.

The committee's meeting Feb. 26 could have — and should have — happened just as they had planned, she said. After the meeting was canceled Feb. 25, Gilford sent an email to the other members requesting they meet March 3.

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"Even the members of this committee who want to give the Governor what he wants from a procedural standpoint, hopefully still want to exercise their duty and right to a say in the selection process," Gilford wrote. "If we do not fulfill our duty to act in time, the Governor will have the discretion and the duty to act alone. We should not cede a responsibility, that we are elected to fulfill, to the Governor."

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Fuller said on Monday the plaintiffs had not heard from any of the other members.

"Our intention from the beginning was doing what the constitution said," Fuller said. "We wanted to clarify what the constitution actually says. The Circuit Court said there were several interpretations; I'm hoping the appellate court will interpret the meaning differently."

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

Carroll County Times poll

The Times posted a poll on its website listing the 26 applicants for the vacant seat representing District 5 in the House of Delegates. More than 1,400 people voted in the poll as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. Here are the top three vote-getters.

Brad Widner - 422

Jeffrey Peters - 383

Joshua Stonko - 173

The results of the poll are unscientific.

Widner, of Westminster, is chairman of the South Carroll High School social studies department.

Peters, of Millers, is a former member of Del. Susan Kreb's staff.

Stonko, of Manchester, was the fourth-place candidate in June's Republican primary for one of the three seats representing District 5 in the House of Delegates.

To vote in the poll, visit http://www.carrollcountytimes.com and click "District 5 Delegate Poll in the upper right of the home page.

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