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Hogan minds his own beeswax

Gov. Larry Hogan made a couple of shrewd moves last week when it comes to staying out of ugly, dysfunctional messes. The first was his proclamation that he had no intention of attending the Republican National Convention this summer. Most likely that's either going to be a high-drama brokered convention that could leave deep fissures in Mr. Hogan's political party, or it'll be a coronation for Donald Trump, of whom the governor finally admitted last week he is not a fan. Given the exigencies of being a Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state, there's no percentage in it for him to get involved.

The same goes for his disavowal of interest in continuing to fight over who serves on the Baltimore City liquor board. That's a mess, too, and not only is it probably better politically for Mr. Hogan to stay away, but it's also good policy for him and future governors not to be involved. The General Assembly passed a bill last week by a veto-proof margin stripping him of appointment authority for the board unless he submits new nominees who can gain Senate confirmation before the legislature adjourns on April 12. We understand that Mr. Hogan dislikes on principle the various efforts of the legislature to strip him of the powers of his office, but we hope he'll let this one go into law.

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For those who haven't been following the ugly twists and turns of the story, here's a brief recap. For many years, Baltimore's state senators had de facto control over who serves on the liquor board, even though appointment power technically belonged to the governor. The result was a regulatory body that displayed all the ills of political patronage. A scathing audit a few years ago uncovered massive problems — including paperwork that was disorganized, lost or non-existent; inspectors who did virtually no work; fees and fines that went uncollected; and bars that nobody checked on. The General Assembly passed a series of reforms but stopped short of upending the system of state control that fostered the situation in the first place.

Last summer and fall, Governor Hogan appointed new members of the board, but they quickly ran afoul of community groups and others who accused them of failing to follow the law in their decisions about current and prospective licensees. The three Hogan appointees got a grilling from the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, and the full Senate eventually voted them down. The appointment reform bill, sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway and the rest of the city Senate delegation, passed the Senate 43-2 and the House 90-46. Mr. Hogan is right that much of the back-and-forth was about politics, and there were plenty of jabs behind the scenes on both sides. But as a matter of policy, the Senate bill gets to more or less the right place.

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It's not perfect. Appointment authority under the new system would be shared between the mayor and City Council president — the mayor would appoint two members of the board, and the council president would get one plus the alternate. Since the point of this reform is to provide a clear line of accountability where none exists now, we would rather see the appointment power shift solely to the mayor. But our more significant quibble with the bill is that it would retain the state Senate's role in deciding whether to confirm the nominees. If the idea here is to provide local control of liquor licensing and enforcement, decisions about who serves on the board should be local, not state matters. That said, we expect that mayors will be more deeply invested in the responsiveness and efficacy of the liquor board than governors typically have been, so it seems unlikely that they will be completely acquiescent to the wishes of the Senate delegation.

Governor Hogan says the city liquor board "has been a mess for years ... and frankly, I don't want to be involved in it." To that, we say amen. We urge him to sign the legislation and ask the mayor and council president to be ready with appointments as soon as the law allows. Time is of the essence. Liquor licenses are up for renewal on April 30, and the city can't afford to have a vacant liquor board at this crucial time of year.

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