After nearly a decade as the state's leading advocate for residential utility customers, Michael J. Travieso has left his position as the people's counsel at the request of the governor, his office confirmed yesterday.
Politicians and consumer advocates called the dismissal a huge loss for consumers and touted the work of Travieso, a Democratic appointee.
"He was just a great advocate for the people; he was superb," said state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. "He was thoroughly versed in all the regulatory arcana of telephones and utilities. Travieso was not just an advocate for consumers - he was good at it."
The change comes as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the first Republican governor in Maryland in 36 years, continues to leave his thumbprint on a variety of state agencies, replacing scores of Democratic appointees with Republicans. In some areas, including the environment and insurance regulation, Ehrlich has pledged that business interests would receive a more favorable hearing than they have under previous liberal-leaning administrations.
"It's usually pretty hard to get Republicans to work in those consumer advocate offices," said Mark A. Keffer, vice president of law and government affairs for AT&T; Corp., who learned of Travieso's dismissal yesterday.
"I've had dealings with Mike in the hearing room, and I found him to be a very capable advocate," Keffer said. "AT&T; was making no waves behind the scenes to have him replaced. He was capable and fair."
Travieso could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, said yesterday that he could not confirm any personnel actions taken.
But the Office of the People's Counsel said that Travieso's job was scheduled to end Aug. 20, though Aug. 6 was his last day at work.
Sandra M. Guthorn, formerly deputy people's counsel, was named acting people's counsel yesterday, the office said.
Travieso had been people's counsel since 1994, when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer appointed him. He has also worked as an assistant attorney general and as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office in Maryland, according to the Web site for the Office of the People's Counsel.
Gigi Kellett, a public-interest advocate for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, has worked with Travieso on several issues to protect consumers in the state.
"It is a huge loss to see someone like Mike leaving this position when he brings to the table so much experience and knowledge about these issues," she said.
"We do hope that the governor appoints someone who will continue Mike's tradition of standing up for Maryland's ratepayers."
Sun staff writers David Nitkin and M. William Salganik contributed to this article.