After a 15-month hiatus from the Maryland General Assembly, Jill P. Carter will complete the unfinished state Senate term of Nathaniel T. Oaks, who resigned his 41st District seat March 29, hours before pleading guilty to two federal felonies in a political corruption case.
Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. made the appointment Monday, selecting Carter, 54, a former member of the House of Delegates, over Joyce J. Smith, 71, who is running for a House seat, after the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee was unable to pick between the two earlier this month.
After five ballots April 17, no single candidate received a majority of votes, so the state central committee instead sent both the names of Carter and Smith to Hogan for him to pick the next city senator from West Baltimore.
“Jill Carter’s dedication to Baltimore City and our state is admirable,” Hogan said in a statement announcing the appointment. “I have no doubt she will serve the constituents of District 41 well.”
Carter, a lawyer and 14-year member of the House, resigned her legislative seat early, in January 2017, to work for Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) as the $121,400-a-year director of the Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement. It is unclear, now that she is returning to Annapolis, if or when she will resign the city post.
Carter is also running for Oaks’ former Senate seat in the June 26 Democratic primary, and the Hogan appointment is seen by some as giving her a leg up over her competition in that election, J.D. Merrill.
Merrill, 27, refused to offer himself as a candidate for the eight-and-a-half-month-long interim appointment to finish Oaks’ term and publicly urged Carter to do the same. A former Baltimore public high school teacher, later an administrator for the city public schools, he is former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley’s son-in-law.
Hogan’s appointment of Carter was seen by some as a way to curry favor with Pugh, who, along with Oaks himself, favor her over Merrill.
To some, it also seemed to some a pointed decision aimed indirectly at his predecessor, O’Malley. To others, it was a shot at Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).
Carter, who paints herself as an Annapolis outsider, was prominent among a handful of officials April 9 at a “Take A Hike, Mike” rally outside the Maryland State House staged by Miller’s opponents on the day of the legislature’s adjournment.
Lastly, the other name sent to Hogan was Smith, a member of the 41st District Democratic State Central Committee for the last 12 years and older sister of Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a Democrat from East Baltimore’s 45th District who has a been openly critical of many of the governor’s policies, most recently during her tenure as chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
In attempting to read the political tea leaves, it is possible that the governor’s decision was based, in varying degrees, on all of these things.
Carter, the daughter of civil rights leader Walter P. Carter, consistently has won the highest number of votes in the 41st District in each of her four elections to the House.
But Merrill said Monday night that he was staying focused on the job at hand — winning the Senate seat.
“Today Governor Hogan made his choice, and in June the voters of the 41st District will make their choice,” Merrill said. “We’re going to continue to run our campaign as we have been for months — working hard, showing up, knocking on doors, and talking about our message: We all do better when our schools do better.”
On the campaign trail, Merrill has slammed Carter for missing 1,600 votes as a legislator and having the worst attendance record of any member of the Baltimore City delegation for seven of her 14 years in the House.
In turn, Carter has called her record “beyond reproach” when it comes to “the difficult issues I championed over the years.”
Carter is taking over the seat vacated by Oaks, who pleaded guilty to two charges of wire fraud and honest services wire fraud stemming from a federal political corruption probe in which he took $15,300 in bribes from an FBI undercover source.
Two hours before the plea, in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Oaks resigned his Maryland Senate seat. The West Baltimore Democrat is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett on July 17, three weeks after the primary.
His name now appears on the 41st District ballot with those of Carter and Merrill. It also appears in a second spot with 23 other candidates for the seven-member 41st District Democratic State Central Committee.
Lawyers for three registered voters from the 41st District have tried to have Oaks’ name removed from the ballot – a matter that has gone back and forth in recent weeks in state courts.
State officials say Oaks was qualified at the time of a Feb. 27 primary election filing deadline and the subsequent withdraw and disqualification dates so is eligible to appear on the ballot.
Although Oaks, 71, was under indictment at the filing deadline, he did not plead guilty until more than a month later to the federal charges – though even that would not have disqualified him as a candidate or officeholder.
State officials maintain there is nothing in Maryland law that allows election officials to remove Oaks’ name from the ballot, given the circumstances – and timing – of the ex-lawmaker’s situation.
But last Monday, all that changed when Oaks withdrew his state voter registration, making himself ineligible to hold office.
On Wednesday, the Maryland Court of Appeals will hear arguments on whether an Anne Arundel County circuit judge can order the Maryland State Board of Elections to remove his name from the 41st District ballots at this late date in the printing process.
The elections board is under very tight time constraints, as under state law, the deadline for printing ballots is May 7, and the federally mandated deadline for mailing absentee ballots to overseas and military voters is May 12.
In a related matter, the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee has initiated an effort through the Maryland Democratic Party to remove Oaks from a seat on the 41st District panel. On the advice of his federal public defender, he did not attend the April 17 meeting where the central committee voted to send the names of Carter and Smith to the governor to decide who should complete Oaks’ Senate term.