One of Gov. Larry Hogan's appointees to a panel that awards concealed handgun permits was rejected Thursday by the Maryland Senate, but it's unclear whether the vote will stand.
The nomination of Richard Jurgena to the Handgun Permit Review Board became controversial after some senators questioned whether his personal opinions about gun laws would get in the way of his job.
The Senate vote on Jurgena's appointment was 23-22 in favor of approval — one shy of a 24-vote majority in the 47-member chamber. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said that meant Jurgena was not confirmed. Republicans quickly objected.
Miller said the state attorney general told him the vote was sufficient to remove Jurgena from his position. Republicans said they believed the opposite and would request a written opinion from the attorney general's office.
The Maryland State Police conduct an initial review of all requests for concealed carry permits. The Handgun Permit Review Board hears from people who believe they were wrongly denied the permits.
Jurgena, a Montgomery County business owner, told The Baltimore Sun's editorial board in an interview published Monday that his interpretation of Supreme Court rulings leads him to believe Maryland's law requiring a "good and substantial reason" to get a concealed carry permit is unconstitutional. He has made similar statements in social media posts.
Jurgena told the editorial board that despite his personal views, he must follow state law and has rejected applicants who failed to meet the "good and substantial" requirement. He's been serving on the panel as an interim member while awaiting confirmation.
Jurgena could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Senate's Executive Nominations Committee had recommended Jurgena and the four other appointees to the handgun board for confirmation. But the committee's chairman, Sen. Jamie Raskin, told the full Senate that Jurgena and the other nominees present a "general problem" because some of them have expressed views that are "philosophically in tension" with the mission of the board.
"This is a candidate who believes our current law is outside the Second Amendment," said Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat.
Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Democrat who represents Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, said he was concerned that Jurgena was "not committed to the mission" of the review board.
Senators who supported Jurgena's appointment pointed out that when he appeared before the Executive Nominations Committee, Jurgena was not asked any questions and his opinions were not discussed by members of the panel.
Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said that when the committee has concerns about a nominee, they can bring them back for more questioning — as they did this year with an appointee to the Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies and electric rates.
"To do this when there weren't any questions, I don't think is fair," said Brochin, who is a member of the committee.
Several Republicans agreed, with Sen. Wayne Norman calling the push to block Jurgena "inherently unfair."
"It's just not how America is supposed to work," said Norman, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties.
Some senators said it wasn't appropriate to make a decision based on news reports or social media postings without hearing directly from the nominee. A motion to table the vote for another day to gather more information was defeated.
While Jurgena's confirmation remains in question, other Hogan appointees whose confirmations had been delayed were approved Thursday.
The Republican governor appointed five people to the handgun board in 2015, including Jurgena. The other four members were confirmed: Jaques R. Cowan of Anne Arundel County, Patricia S. West of Baltimore County, Courtney M. White of Baltimore and Robert D.H. Wilson of Queen Anne's County.
Another Hogan appointee, Michael Richard of the Public Service Commission, was confirmed in a 31-15 vote despite questions about whether he had improperly advised the governor's staff on PSC issues in January after joining the commission.
Richard, who had been a deputy chief of staff to Hogan, acknowledged after a confirmation hearing last month that exchanging emails with his former administration colleagues was a mistake.
Raskin said the executive nominations committee was "forgiving" and wants nominees to succeed. But he voted against Richard's nomination, saying he wanted "to send a serious message about ex parte contacts or political coordination by members of an independent board."
The committee also approved the nominations of six Hogan appointees to the Maryland State Board of Education. They had been held up until the final days of the annual 90-day legislative session over concerns that some of them supported private and charter schools at the expense of traditional public education.
The nominations of Chester E. Finn, Jr., Michele J. Guyton, Stephanie R. Iszard, Andy Smarick, Laura E. Weeldreyer and student member Quinn M. Wandalowski were approved, 42-0.
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