Don’t miss Orioles players, John Means & Paul Fry, as they guest host at our Brews and O’s event!

Cabinet includes business, Assembly


For weeks, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has sprinkled forth his Cabinet nominees, one or two at a time.

Now, with 14 named and six to go, the aggregate group is showing some general characteristics: It is no accident that they include a high proportion of current or former legislators, and of business executives.

And, some say, overall they appear to be somewhat thin on serious administrative experience -- and on ethnic and gender diversity.

The proportions could change, of course, once the final picks are made to run the departments of agriculture, public safety, environment, natural resources, higher education and health. (Ehrlich said he would have them all named before his inauguration Wednesday, and then by the end of last week.)

Of those nominated, five have recently served -- or are still serving -- in the Maryland General Assembly, another has a wife in the House of Delegates, and one was on the Prince George's County Council.

Three are business people. Three are African-American, and two are women -- selected to run the relatively small departments of aging and planning. Two are Democrats.

There are 22 Cabinet members in all, including the lieutenant governor and the superintendent of schools, who is chosen by the state school board. Some run enormous agencies, such as the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which employs 12,000 people. Others have jobs mysterious to most Marylanders, such as adjutant general, who is responsible for the Maryland National Guard.

If confirmed by the Senate, all of them will be charged with transforming the behemoth of state government from a Democratic bureaucracy into a Republican "lean, mean responsive machine," in the words of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, at a time of severe fiscal constraint. Their task is to enact Ehrlich's policies, make their agencies more efficient, and never make the governor look bad.

Ehrlich says his first priority in picking Cabinet members was common philosophy. "The most important question was 'Are you with our program?' ... Loyalty, yeah, but also, are you really buying in to what we're trying to do?" he said.

He also wanted a team that was politically savvy, he said. For the first time in three decades, a Republican governor must try to push his budget and policies through a legislature controlled by Democrats. Ehrlich needs all the insider knowledge he can get.

"You'll notice that we have a bunch of former legislators," he said. "Particularly when you have a new Republican administration, it's going to be a big help to have people who understand the legislative process, and have experience dealing with the legislature. ... We have a very unique challenge here."

In addition, all the former state lawmakers are people Ehrlich knew and liked when he served in the House of Delegates. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., Ehrlich's nominee for the Department of Juvenile Justice, served with him on the House Judiciary Committee, and his Transportation Department pick, Del. Robert L. Flanagan, was active in his campaign.

Some sitting Democratic lawmakers say Ehrlich is smart to load up his Cabinet with their colleagues, and that they look forward to working with them. "I'm very happy that he's chosen a lot of legislators," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve. "It shows that he wants to work with the legislature."

But others say they're a tad worried that while some of Ehrlich's picks might have good political instincts, their resumes seem to lack hefty administrative experience. Ehrlich has never been an executive.

"They have a very light bench," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said of the state GOP. "It's not the best of all possible worlds, but it's understandable" why Ehrlich chose whom he chose. Their lack of experience, he said, "is not a major concern, but it is a concern."

Flanagan, a lawyer, has not managed a large organization before; nor has Ehrlich's former campaign manager, James C. DiPaula Jr., nominated as budget secretary, run anything close to a $22 billion operation such as the state of Maryland.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said the advantage the three previous governors had over Ehrlich in choosing a Cabinet is "that they either had executive experience ... or an idea of who they wanted to bring, who had established themselves as good administrators in counties."

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening brought in many managers from Prince George's County, where he had been county executive. "Many might look at it as a drawback that Governor Ehrlich does not have those resources to draw on, so he's starting with a core of people that does not have real experience in managing government," Busch said.

But the people in charge of Ehrlich's transition team say they are thrilled with the level of experience -- and business smarts -- the Cabinet reflects.

Besides, said Steele, chairman of the transition team, the trouble with some of Glendening's Cabinet secretaries is that they were "too intellectual. ... They were not good at the business aspects of running their agencies."

The transition team members' theory was that they weren't necessarily going to choose an engineer to run the Department of General Services, for instance, when a business-minded person might bring better ideas about how to streamline government. They chose Boyd K. Rutherford for the job, who has degrees in economics, political science, law and communications management.

"He's not someone who has groveled around in state government for his career," said James T. Brady, who ran the transition's day-to-day operations -- as he did for Glendening. "We tried to bring in very bright people. ... If they don't have the technical background, we'll surround them with people that do."

DiPaula, for example, had his new deputy budget secretary, Thomas Lee, by his side Friday when he presented Ehrlich's budget plan. Lee held the same position under Glendening.

"Government is not the same as the private sector," Brady continued. "Too many people think you can come in and run a state like it's [General Motors]. However, there are business techniques that can be woven into the fabric of government that can make it run better."

Business executives named to the Cabinet include James D. Fielder Jr. for secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation; Aris Melissaratos for Business and Economic Development; and Victor L. Hoskins for Housing and Community Development. And DiPaula worked in real estate development for 10 years.

As for a balance of ethnicities and genders, Ehrlich and Steele said they did not have quotas in mind when choosing candidates.

"It just happens, which is better than forcing it," Ehrlich said.

But some people are worried that it hasn't quite happened, and are waiting for the final appointees to pass judgment.

Two women, former Bowie Mayor and Prince George's County Councilwoman Audrey E. Scott for planning secretary and former state Sen. Jean W. Roesser for aging secretary; and three African-Americans, Montague, Hoskins and Rutherford, have been appointed.

Ehrlich "made an effort to say that he's going to have a Cabinet that is reflective of the state," said Isiah Leggett, an African-American and chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, "and I think you can find appropriate talent that can do that. ... So I would have a concern about how the Cabinet is reflected in terms of overall diversity."

Others, too, are waiting anxiously for Ehrlich to name the final nominees. (Overall, his naming process has been comparatively slow; Glendening had his Cabinet members named four days before his inauguration.)

Environmental groups in particular are antsy, since neither an environmental nor a natural resources secretary has been announced.

"There are crucial issues facing those agencies," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, "and without the leadership, they can't begin to confront them."

Ehrlich's Cabinet

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has selected 14 of the 20 members of his Cabinet whom the governor appoints. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick also serve.

Name Agency Former position

R. Karl Aumann Secretary of State congressional aide

Robert L. Flanagan Transportation delegate and lawyer

James D. Fielder Jr. Labor, Licensing and Regulation business executive

James C. DiPaula Jr. Budget & Management Ehrlich campaign manager

Victor L. Hoskins Housing & Community Development business executive

Thomas E. Hutchins Veterans Affairs delegate and retired police Commander

Christopher J. McCabe Human Resources federal administrator and former state senator

Aris Melissaratos Business & Economic Development business executive

Kenneth C. Montague Juvenile Justice former delegate and lawyer

Edward T. Norris State Police former Baltimore police commissioner

Jean W. Roesser Aging former state senator

Boyd K. Rutherford General Services federal administrator

Audrey E. Scott Planning former county council member

Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill National Guard assistant adjutant general

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad