Hogan's Vetoes Spark Political Firestorm

Reaction to Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s veto Thursday of three education-related bills passed this year by the Maryland General Assembly was strong and swift, though it remains unclear how many people were actually paying any attention. One bill that was predictably problematic for the Republican governor was legislation that would have, by law, broadened the definitions of which public school employees are subject to collective bargaining to include supervisors and management personnel, rather than allowing local school systems to negotiate the status of each of those positions. A second, in short, would have reclassified 923 “special appointment” employees of the Maryland State Department of Education, who ordinarily would be classified as being in the “skilled or professional service,” by placing them in the state’s employee merit system. But the legislation that drew the most fire all around was a measure that would have added three more members — two certified teachers and a parent of a public-school student — to the 12-person State Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor. In his veto message, Hogan wrote that the bill is “a crude attempt to … dilute the authority of the Board of Education by packing it with appointees that represent the interest of lobbyists, rather than those of teachers, parents, administrators or students.” What seemed to trouble Hogan the most was that while the governor would have still been able to appoint the three new members, he would have to select the two teacher candidates – an elementary school teacher and a secondary-level teacher — from lists prepared by the Maryland State Education Association and the Baltimore Teachers Union. The parent would be selected from a list prepared by the Maryland Parent-Teacher Association. The veto brought an immediate response from the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., the Montgomery County Democrat who is running for governor in the June 26 primary election. “I find this outrageous that the Governor would veto this bill – and describe the teachers and parents that could have been appointed to the board as ‘represent[ing] the interests of lobbyists,’” Madaleno said in a statement. “It only makes sense to want them to have a say in policy decisions.” And the Maryland Democratic Party was quick to react as well. “Hatchet Man Hogan is at it again, this time blocking teachers and parents of current public school students from sitting on the state Board of Education,” a party statement read in part.  Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller  The MSEA, a regular Hogan punching bag, used the governor’s frequent attempts to highlight what he describes as bipartisan, common sense legislation to criticize his veto. “As he stands in the way of this common sense, bipartisan idea, we see once again that the governor’s rhetoric about bipartisanship does not match his record,” said Betty Weller, the union president. “Educators will remember that Gov. Hogan doesn’t think that we deserve a voice in what’s best for our students. But he can rest assured that he will hear our voice in November.” Hogan seemed particularly bothered by the idea of subjecting the State Board of Education’s “special appointment” employees, as well as statewide school supervisory and management employees statewide, to collective bargaining. “These bills also seek to prevent the Maryland State Board of Education – a body that is already insulated from political influence – from removing high-level employees who are ineffectual, incompetent or who simply aren’t getting the job done,” the governor wrote in his veto message. There are those in the state, however, who have argued that the State Board of Education – whose members are appointed by the governor – is in no way “insulated from political influence.” For instance, in a rare move late last month that many charged was tainted by politics, State Schools Superintendent Karen B. Salmon refused to approve the permanent appointment of Baltimore County Interim Schools Superintendent Verletta White, citing recent ethical lapses. Earlier in April, White’s permanent appointment was approved on an 8-4 vote by a deeply divided Baltimore County School Board and sent on to Salmon for an approval that historically has been considered a mere formality. The county board has since asked Salmon to reconsider her decision – a request that is still pending. Hogan’s strongly worded veto message was not limited to the three bills in question and seemed to suggest the governor’s much-touted era of “bipartisanship” could be over in this election year. In his 3¼-page veto letter to the legislature’s presiding officers, Hogan went on to take a variety of shots at Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), over a series of past efforts unrelated to the bills in question except that they could fall under the broad heading of “Education.” “These pieces of flawed legislation join the unfortunate litany of attempts by the General Assembly over the past four sessions to pass legislation to enhance the power of partisan special interests, while eliminating transparency and usurping accountability,” Hogan wrote. Some saw the vetoes – and the letter — as a harbinger of what could be a ham-handed Hogan in a possible second term. A legislative override this year of Hogan’s vetoes is probably not going to happen, and the Maryland Constitution prevents a new General Assembly from overriding a veto in the regular 90-day legislative session following an election. That would not preclude an override, should the legislature meet in special session before next January to take up, say, the matter of legalized sports gambling, in wake of the recent Supreme Court decision approving it. Some have suggested a special session to consider an expansion of gambling in Maryland to include sports betting and then putting the question before voters on the November ballot. A special session, however, is considered unlikely, as under the state Constitution such an extraordinary act would have to be ordered by Hogan, and he has made clear he has no intention of doing so. The Constitution, however, does provide for the General Assembly to petition the governor, requiring him to convene a session, should a majority of both houses approve the petition. Protecting Franchot On Friday, Hogan vetoed another six bills — including one aimed at Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat who is a gubernatorial ally – and allowed another 55 pieces of legislation approved by the General Assembly to become law without his signature. The vetoed bill targeting Franchot began as a technical change in the law dealing with the oath of office, but was amended in the House Appropriations Committee to eliminate the comptroller from chairing the State Retirement and Pension System’s board of trustees. Under the law, the pension system’s board now elects the chair from among its members – including the comptroller and Maryland treasurer — but the bill would have changed the statute to specify the treasurer as chair. The current chair is Maryland Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. The legislature’s Democrats have gone after Franchot this year because he and Hogan enjoy a “bromance,” in the governor’s words, and the two have partnered in a variety of endeavors.Earlier this year, the General Assembly approved legislation that takes the authority to award school construction money away from the Board of Public Works – comprised of the governor, comptroller and treasurer – and put it in the hands of a new commission. Hogan vetoed the measure, and the legislature turned around and overrode his veto in the final days of this year’s legislative session. In his Friday veto message to Miller, Hogan wrote that the State Retirement and Pension System’s board of trustees voted to ask him to veto the bill because it was amended at the last minute, without their being consulted or notified. “It is clear to me that this amendment was adopted to prevent the current comptroller from serving as the chair, if the current state treasurer were to ever decide to leave office,” Hogan wrote. “I see this amendment as nothing more than an effort by the General Assembly to exact a political payback on the comptroller for being outspoken on a number of issues, many of which are at odds with the General Assembly and its leadership, having nothing to do with the leadership or management of the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System,” he wrote to Miller. “I find it objectionable to make such changes on a whim for political motives,” Hogan wrote. “It is unconscionable that the General Assembly would cynically use this bill as a vehicle to engage in political payback.” [email protected]

William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.

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