For Ques­tion 1

Our view: Vot­ers should sup­port amend­ment on filling va­cant of­fices

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

Mary­land vot­ers have been asked to de­cide some weighty is­sues in the form of con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments and ref­er­en­dums in the last few years — gay mar­riage, casino gam­bling, in-state tu­ition for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and more. By con­trast, there is only one statewide ques­tion on the bal­lot this year, and you prob­a­bly have heard noth­ing about it what­so­ever. Ti­tled “Ap­point­ments and Spe­cial Elec­tions for At­tor­ney Gen­eral or Comp­trol­ler,” it amounts to a bit of con­sti­tu­tional house­keep­ing and should be en­acted.

Un­der cur­rent law, Mary­land deals with va­can­cies in statewide elected of­fices in a va­ri­ety of ways. If a gover­nor re­signs, dies or is other­wise in­ca­pable of per­form­ing his or her du­ties, the lieu­tenant gover­nor au­to­mat­i­cally takes over. If the lieu­tenant gover­nor must be re­placed, the gover­nor gets to choose a new No. 2, sub­ject to con­fir­ma­tion by a ma­jor­ity vote of all mem­bers of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. If the at­tor­ney gen­eral va­cates of­fice, the gover­nor gets to choose a suc­ces­sor for the re­main­der of the term. If the comp­trol­ler must be re­placed, the gover­nor chooses a new one with the ad­vice and con­sent of the Se­nate. All of those pro­ce­dures are laid out in the state con­sti­tu­tion.

State code pro­vided that if a va­cancy oc­curred in the of­fice of U.S. se­na­tor, the gover­nor could choose a suc­ces­sor who would then serve un­til the next reg­u­larly sched­uled elec­tion (un­less the va­cancy oc­curred three weeks or less be­fore the fil­ing dead­line for the elec­tion held in the fourth year of the term, in which case the per­son would serve out the re­main­der of the orig­i­nal se­na­tor’s six years).

The amend­ment on the bal­lot stems from a bill spon­sored by Del. David Moon, a Mont­gomery County Demo­crat, seek­ing to stan­dard­ize pro­ce­dures for se­na­tor, at­tor­ney gen­eral and comp­trol­ler. (Be­cause the pro­vi­sions re­lat­ing to a se­na­tor were not in the con­sti­tu­tion, they are not on the bal­lot and are al­ready law.) First and fore­most, the leg­is­la­tion seeks to en­sure that the gover­nor must ap­point some­one from the same po­lit­i­cal party as the per­son be­ing re­placed. Some states have such re­quire­ments and some don’t, but it seems rea­son­able that the will of the vot­ers is most likely to be hon­ored if a Demo­crat is re­placed by a Demo­crat or a Repub­li­can by a Repub­li­can. Mem­bers of the state cen­tral com­mit­tee of the ap­pro­pri­ate party would have 30 days to sub­mit three names to the gover­nor, and he or she would have 15 days to pick among them. If the of­fice-holder is not a mem­ber of a po­lit­i­cal party, the gover­nor can choose any per­son who meets the ba­sic qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the of­fice.

For at­tor­ney gen­eral and comp­trol­ler, the amend­ment ad­di­tion­ally sets up a spe­cial elec­tion sys­tem sim­i­lar to that in ex­ist­ing law for U.S. sen­a­tors. If a va­cancy oc­curs on or be­fore 21 days be­fore the fil­ing dead­line dur­ing a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year, a per­ma­nent re­place­ment will be picked by vot­ers in a spe­cial elec­tion run­ning con­cur­rently with the reg­u­lar pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tions. That avoids the ex­pense and low turnout as­so­ci­ated with spe­cial elec­tions in which only one of­fice is on the bal­lot.

The mea­sure didn’t gen­er­ate much de­bate in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly, but it was op­posed al­most uni­formly by Repub­li­cans, who lumped it in with other bills dur­ing this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion that they saw as af­fronts to the chief ex­ec­u­tive’ power that would never have been en­acted if the gover­nor was a Demo­crat and not Repub­li­can Larry Ho­gan. To be sure, there were some le­git­i­mate ex­am­ples of that, but this wasn’t one of them. It may have looked that way in the con­text of a pop­u­lar Repub­li­can gover­nor and Democrats hold­ing the posts of at­tor­ney gen­eral and comp­trol­ler and both U.S. Se­nate seats, but who knows that the fu­ture may bring? Per­haps three years from now, Se­na­tor Szeliga will re­sign to take a post in Pres­i­dent Trump’s cab­i­net, and Repub­li­cans will be glad that Gover­nor Kamenetz has to pick a mem­ber of her party to re­place her.

This may not be the most burn­ing is­sue of our times, but it’s worth your sup­port. We rec­om­mend vot­ing for the amend­ment.

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