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Senate approves change to how Maryland replaces top elected officials

Defying Gov. Larry Hogan, the Senate approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would curb the governor's discretion in filling the offices of comptroller and attorney general if the offices become vacant.

The 30-14 vote to approve the measure fell largely along party lines. If the House of Delegates agrees, the proposed amendment would go on the ballot in the November election.

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Earlier this year, the Hogan administration identified the measure as one of many it objected to as infringements on the power of the chief executive.

The governor now has wide discretion in filling a vacancy in the two positions, the only two non-federal statewide offices for which candidates run independently of the governor. The replacements currently would serve out the balance of the elected official's four-year term.

The amendment says that if the vacancy occurs early in the comptroller's or attorney general's term, the position would go on the ballot in November of the presidential election year.

It would also require that interim replacements come from the same party as the official whose position became vacant. The party state central committee would forward three names to the governor, who would choose from that list.

The replacement process is similar to that used for legislative vacancies, where local central committees choose replacements for lawmakers of their party and send recommendations to the governor.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the measure, said it would apply equally whether the governor or the replaced officials were Democrats or Republicans. But GOP senators questioned why the proposal wasn't made until Hogan, a Republican, was elected.

The measure would more likely disadvantage Republicans because Democrats have dominated the office of attorney general for nearly a century and the comptroller's job even longer.

The governor's replacement power for the offices was last exercised in 1998, when Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein died. Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening replaced him with Democrat Bobby Swann.

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