The fiasco that we've seen since Gov. Larry Hogan began picking sitting state lawmakers for positions in his administration could be avoided if the state changed the law and required special elections to fill openings.
The backlash from county Republicans after the party's central committee chose Robin Frazier to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Joseph Getty was swift and echoed all the way to the Governor's Mansion. The fact that the committee members made their decision in secret, refused to even release the names of those who applied and totally ignored the tens of thousands of Republican voters in the county was not well-received.
Hogan responded by asking the committee to submit additional names, which the committee did after initially balking at the suggestion. Had there not been a previous court case in which the judge ruled for then Gov. Parris Glendenning receiving three names to replace a Democratic lawmaker, our central committee likely would have continued to fight.
In Frederick County, the central committee also submitted three names for an open Delegate seat after using a more open process and involved the public. Even with that process, however, the end result will be someone being appointed to a position who may or may not have the support of voters in the district.
A better way to fill vacancies is through a special election. Given the results of most special elections, whether Democratic or Republican there likely would be a low turnout. And many local governments balk at the cost of having a special election.
At the end of the day, though, it comes down to where your priorities are, and whether you believe that the voting public – no matter how large or how small – should be the ones deciding on their representation, or whether it should be handled by a small group making the decision for everyone.
Instances such as those we are experiencing today are rare. We have a new Republican administration after years of having a Democrat in the Governor's Mansion. The new governor wants to build a strong team, and taking lawmakers with experience in different areas is a good move on his part. But the timing is such that these same lawmakers were elected to new terms at the same time that the people chose the governor, so their replacements will fill a full four-year term.
Voters in any jurisdiction should not be stuck for four years with someone they don't think is a good representative.
Carroll's commissioners want our delegation to change the local law to take the power away from the central committee if there is an opening on the board. Given the committee's involvement in a recent Ethics Commission controversy targeting a sitting commissioner, and their own display of secrecy and political cronyism in finding a replacement for Getty, that is a change that should be pushed hard this legislative session.
But our delegation should also work with others in the legislature to push for special elections to fill state-level vacancies. Our Republican Central Committee is not alone in the shameful way that it has handled its responsibility, as evidenced by a former Democratic governor wanting three names instead of just one. But is has put the issue in the spotlight again, and the only way to avoid similar controversies in the future is to change the way vacancies are filled and giving voters the right to decide.