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Politics

Hogan names health secretary, 'Bay Cabinet'

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan named a former Democratic lawmaker from Southern Maryland as the state's health secretary Tuesday as he continued to fill key posts in his administration.

In addition to appointing former Del. Van T. Mitchell to head the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Hogan named his "Chesapeake Bay Cabinet" secretaries of agriculture, natural resources and the environment.

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Hogan said he made the appointments — which must be approved by the state Senate — after consultations with groups that will work with the new secretaries.

"We've held extensive meetings with stakeholders and very productive meetings with leaders of both parties," he said.

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Mitchell, a 59-year-old Democrat, will head the largest agency in state government, the one charged with implementing the health insurance website whose rollout last year was a costly failure. After a decade in the legislature, where he chaired a House subcommittee overseeing the health department budget, he was a deputy health secretary in the administration of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"He knows the department inside and out," Hogan said.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative and a leading supporter of the health exchange, said he has often disagreed with Mitchell on policy but considers him "a very decent person." He noted that Mitchell will face severe budget challenges when he takes over.

"I look forward to working with him to save money in ways that do not hurt people," DeMarco said.

To head the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Hogan turned to another former Democratic elected official, Joseph Bartenfelder. A longtime farmer, Bartenfelder served three terms in the House of Delegates and four on the Baltimore County Council before losing the 2010 Democratic primary for county executive.

Like Mitchell, Bartenfelder comes from the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. In the week before last month's election, he campaigned with Hogan along the Harford Road corridor.

Valerie Connelly, executive director of the Maryland Farm Bureau, praised the Bartenfelder appointment.

"Joe Bartenfelder comes from a farm background, which is very important to the Farm Bureau and its members," Connelly said.

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Bartenfelder will join Charlie Evans, Hogan's choice to head the Department of Natural Resources, and Ben Grumbles, his nominee to lead the Maryland Department of the Environment. Evans is a former assistant secretary of natural resources, while Grumbles is a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean water official and director of Arizona's Department of Environmental Quality.

During the Ehrlich administration, Evans led the initiative to establish the "flush tax" — a fee on sewer billsto finance upgrades in the state's sewer systems. He is also a fiction writer who has published a thriller called "Terror on the Bay."

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Grumbles, who served in the George W. Bush administration, was criticized by environmentalists for his oversight of a 2004 EPA report that many believed minimized the potential impact on water quality of the natural gas extraction method known as "fracking" — an issue on which Hogan likely will have to act. Grumbles defended the report but has since said Congress went too far in granting natural gas companies a permanent exemption from EPA regulation of fracking. Most recently, Grumbles has served as president of the U.S. Water Alliance in Washington.

Jennifer Brock-Cancellieri, deputy direction of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said the group would be able to work with the three Bay Cabinet secretaries.

"We know all three of the folks who were appointed and feel they'll be fair and open-minded," she said.

Hogan pointed to a pair of "firsts" in his appointments to head the Maryland National Guard and the Office of Minority Affairs.

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The governor-elect, who will take office Jan. 21, named Brig. Gen. Linda L. Singh, who now heads the state's Army National Guard, as the first woman and first African-American adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard. Her appointment comes at a time when the U.S. military has been opening up combat duties to women.

In a move that drew the attention of the South Korean media, Hogan also named Jimmy Rhee, a businessman and Virginia economic development official, to the minority affairs post, making him the first Korean-American to serve in a Maryland governor's Cabinet. Hogan's Korean-born wife, Yumi, attended the announcement in Annapolis.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com


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