Hogan vs. Miller

Our view: If the governor thinks the Senate president acted unethically, he should follow through and file a complaint

It was one thing when a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan accused Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller of acting unethically — maybe even illegally — by linking confirmation of a cabinet secretary to getting what he wanted in an unrelated, supposedly apolitical decision about whether the Anne Arundel Medical Center should get a cardiac surgery program. It was quite another last week when the governor himself said the Senate president repeatedly threatened to reject Mr. Hogan's nominee for state health secretary unless he stopped the Maryland Health Care Commission from granting AAMC the certificate of need required to start the program.

Senator Miller was able to dismiss the spokesman's comments as the ravings of a "pipsqueak" and a "monkey grinder." But when the most powerful political figure in the state right now goes after the Maryland politician who has arguably wielded the most power over the last 30 years, it means war. Now that Mr. Hogan started it, he better be prepared to follow through.


The latest turn of events is an escalation in a dispute about two Hogan nominees, Health Secretary Dennis Schrader and Planning Secretary Wendi Peters. Both were initially named to their posts during the 2016 legislative interim and were subject to the Senate confirmation process this year. The Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted to reject Ms. Peters, but Mr. Hogan withdrew her name from consideration before the full Senate could weigh in. Mr. Schrader never got a vote in committee, and Governor Hogan withdrew his name rather than wait to see what the Senate would do. He reappointed both immediately after the legislative session ended in a clear end-run around the constitution.

Anticipating this, the legislature included language in the budget designed to prevent them from being paid once the new fiscal year started July 1. With neither side backing down, it's altogether possible that we'll see litigation on the legitimacy of the appointments, the legality of the legislature cutting off their pay, or both.

But the governor's accusation adds a new dimension to the matter and raises two immediate questions.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, left, speaks with Gov. Larry Hogan in between signing bills after the General Assembly session.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, left, speaks with Gov. Larry Hogan in between signing bills after the General Assembly session. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

First: What really happened? It's no secret that Senator Miller opposed the AAMC certificate of need out of concern that putting a cardiac surgery program there would jeopardize the viability of the newly reconstituted Prince George's Hospital, but he flatly denies Governor Hogan's claim that he linked that issue to a vote on Mr. Shrader, calling it "an outright lie." Sen. Bill Ferguson, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Executive Nominations Committee, recently wrote on Facebook that it is "totally and completely fabricated." The Hogan administration, however, says it has several witnesses. Getting beyond the he said-he said of the situation to verifiable facts, the timing of events is a bit perplexing. AAMC had already gotten its certificate of need before Governor Hogan withdrew the nominations, and the Senate had already shifted strategies in the effort to help Prince George's Hospital by carving out additional funds to support it in the budget.

The second question is: If Mr. Hogan's account of Senator Miller's actions is accurate, would that amount to a violation of the legislature's ethics rules? The award of a certificate of need is supposed to be independent of politics, and the Hogan administration believes it would have been at least unethical and possibly illegal for the governor to have intervened. But does that automatically make it a violation for Mr. Miller to have tried to pressure him to do so?

The only way to get to the bottom of either question is for the governor to file a complaint with the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. Governor Hogan hasn't ruled that idea in or out, but he should do it. There's no point in lobbing a grenade into the Senate chamber and walking away. If Governor Hogan really thinks Senator Miller violated ethics rules, he should follow through. What, at this point, does he have to lose?

More broadly, this seems to amount to Mr. Hogan disapproving of the way Mr. Miller runs the Senate. He should join the club, whose members presumably include each of the four other people who have served as governor while Senator Miller was a presiding officer. We could agree with the argument that Senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointees should be based on qualifications alone — either someone is suitable for the job or not. But if Governor Hogan is objecting to the system of vote trading that often decides matters in this and every legislative body we've ever observed, he may find himself having trouble getting much done for the rest of his time in office. Of course, when you pick fights with Mike Miller, you might never get anything through the Senate again anyway.

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