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Maryland Senate approves Hogan PSC nominee despite email controversy

A "forgiving" state Senate voted Thursday to confirm an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan to the powerful body that regulates utilities in Maryland, despite his acknowledged mistakes in email exchanges with his former administration colleagues.

Michael Richard won a recommendation for a five-year term on the Public Service Commission on a 15-2 vote by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, then was confirmed by the full Senate Thursday afternoon.

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Several senators expressed confidence that he had learned his lesson from the controversy generated by his sharing of confidential information with Hogan's staff after he took his seat on the panel.

Richard took his seat on the PSC in January after serving as a deputy chief of staff to Hogan. After appointment, an advocacy group received copies of his emails through an interest group that showed he had continued to discuss commission business with administration officials for several weeks.

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Opponents of the nomination said the exchanges amounted to "ex parte" communications, a term for improper exchanges of information between someone in a judicial position and individual parties to a case without the knowledge of all contestants.

Richard contended his communications were legal, but senators said he later conceded that he had made a mistake by not limiting his communications once taking his seat of the PSC, a quasi-judicial body that sets utility rates and oversees energy policy.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, the Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the panel, said it was a "forgiving committee" that wants nominees to succeed. But Raskin voted against the 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 nominees to the state Board of Education, who had been held up until the final days of the annual 90-day legislative session over concerns that some of them were pushing Maryland too far in the direction of support for private and charter schools at the expense of traditional public education. They were all approved, 42-0, by the full Senate.

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