Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Wednesday said his forthcoming bill to offset any negative impacts from the massive federal tax measure that Congress passed this week would amount to a holiday gift for Marylanders – without explaining how the legislation would work.
Hogan evidently decided to spread the holiday cheer a little further on Thursday by what he didn’t say in a news release announcing his decision to nominate political handyman Bobby Neall to be state Health secretary. Neall would replace Dennis Schrader, who has held the position on an acting basis amid multiple controversies for the past year.
In the news release that went out Thursday, Hogan saluted Schrader for his service – he will remain with the agency as the chief operating officer – and made reference to the political and legal fights he has had to endure without being confirmed or paid for several months.
“I want to thank Secretary Schrader for his dedicated, unwavering, and incredible service to the citizens of Maryland, despite the unjust and appalling circumstances imposed on him,” Hogan said in the release.
But in a draft version of the announcement, obtained by Maryland Matters from two sources, Hogan was prepared to affix blame for Schrader’s misery and used a couple of extra adjectives to describe the unusual situation.
“I want to thank Dennis for his dedicated, unwavering, and incredible volunteer service to the citizens of Maryland, despite the outrageously unjust and appalling circumstances imposed on him by Senate President [Mike] Miller and Attorney General [Brian] Frosh,” Hogan was quoted as saying in the earlier version, which was not made public.
The Senate was wavering on whether to confirm Schrader’s nomination, and Hogan pulled it just days before the end of this year’s General Assembly session, even though Miller suggested that the nomination was likely to be OK’d. Frosh ruled later in the year that Schrader and another Hogan cabinet member whose nomination the Senate rejected, former acting Planning Secretary Wendi Peters, were no longer eligible to be paid. A circuit court ruled against Frosh’s finding last week – but then the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, stayed the lower court’s order and said it would not hear the case for another six months.
Hogan said the appeals court timetable prompted him to nominate Neall.
“The Circuit Court’s ruling was crystal clear – lawfully appointed public servants are legally entitled to a paycheck and the Maryland Constitution was violated when their pay was denied,” he said in the statement announcing Neall’s nomination and Schrader’s reassignment. “Due to the fact that Secretary Schrader had already been illegally denied pay for six months, allowing his compensation to be delayed for an additional six months was simply not an acceptable option.”
But make no mistake: Many lawmakers and medical industry professionals will see Neall’s appointment as an upgrade over Schrader.
While stakeholders respected Schrader’s administrative abilities – he has held a range of jobs inside and outside government – he had no health care policy experience prior to taking over the Health Department a year ago, when Hogan abruptly parted company with the prior secretary, Van Mitchell. Some of the Health Department’s top professionals have left the agency during Schrader’s tenure, and certain lawmakers have been critical of his work, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding health care policy at the federal level.
Neall, however, is a popular and deeply admired figure in Annapolis who has also worked the policy side on health care, as the CEO of a Medicaid managed care company and as a top official in many roles at the Johns Hopkins Health System. Equally important, Neall, 69, has a lifetime’s worth of relationships in the State House.
He was a member of the House of Delegates from 1975 to 1987, served as Anne Arundel County executive from 1990 to 1994, and served in the state Senate from 1996 to 2003. He was a Democrat for the last few years of his Senate career, but has mostly been a Republican.
Neall’s government service goes deeper than just elective office. He has served on countless boards and commissions, often finding himself in the middle of some of the state’s most pitched policy battles. He was co-chairman of Hogan’s transition team, and has been serving in the administration since 2016 as a senior adviser, focused on government efficiency.
“Bobby Neall is an extraordinary public servant, and I am confident that working together as a team, he and Dennis will continue to lead the department in a manner that always puts the needs of Maryland citizens first,” Hogan said.
The switch is effective on Jan. 9 – one day before the General Assembly session begins. The Senate will advise and consent on Neall’s nomination, but it’s hard to imagine any circumstance under which he’s not confirmed by a commanding margin.