Voters will decide Tuesday on whether to re-elect Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) or bring change in the form of former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous (D).
The candidates have delivered their stump speeches throughout the state and made an array of promises, but much of the work Maryland’s governor will face in the next four years amounts to confronting ongoing, unresolved issues.
Every year there are fights over state spending. Every year policymakers are debating education, health care, transportation, criminal justice, and tax policy.
But additionally, there are issues that are especially timely, or unique or vexing, that the governor will have to confront in fairly short order. Here’s a quick look at six things on the agenda for the next four years, regardless of who wins:
School funding and the state school board
The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — known as the Kirwan Commission — is in the final stretches of making far-reaching recommendations about education policies and education funding in the state ― and voters may give lawmakers a pot of gold to decide how to spend.
The education funding lockbox, which has been embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike, is on the ballot Tuesday and would dedicate casino revenues as supplemental state education funding going forward.
The entire state school board turns over regularly; 11 of the 12 members serve staggered four-year terms and a student member serves a one-year term.
Four appointments will be made within the first year of a new term.
The board sets education policy in the state and issues budget recommendations for consideration by the governor, in addition to appointing the state superintendent of schools.
The board also hears appeals from disputes with the state’s 24 local school boards.
Some of Hogan’s appointees have attracted criticism from Democratic lawmakers and the Maryland State Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union that finds itself frequently at odds with the governor. One nominee withdrew after a rocky Senate Executive Nominations Committee hearing.
In 2018, Democratic lawmakers pushed for a change to the state board’s appointment process, introducing a bill that would have expanded the state board by three members, requiring the new seats to be filled by two teachers ― nominated by the MSEA and Baltimore Teachers Union ― and a parent. Hogan vetoed the measure after session ended, calling it an 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.”
Someone has got to solve the managerial crises at the University of Maryland following the death of football player Jordan McNair, and the governor will be involved whether he wants to be or not.
At a minimum, the next governor will appoint the next chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents; the Regents will select the next president of the University of Maryland.
But confusion reigned over who truly had jurisdiction over hiring and firing the school’s athletic director and football coach, and it’s possible the system may be in for some structural changes in the next few years. Students, parents, administrators, alumni, donors and lawmakers will demand it.
A commission that will conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Baltimore Police Department and make recommendations for change in the wake of scandals that plague the department has just started work.
The Commission to Restore Trust in Policing has broad authority and was crafted by legislation last General Assembly session as knowledge of corruption in the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite police team within the Baltimore Police Department, came to light.
Eight members of the nine-member task force have been convicted of federal racketeering charges. The officers’ misdeeds included robbing city residents and suspected drug dealers, and improperly using police resources to plot their schemes.
An initial report from the commission is expected this winter, followed by a more far-reaching report expected in 2019, after the commission’s investigative work and public hearings.
On Maryland’s top court, the Court of Appeals, at least five of the seven judges will be appointed in the next four years due to mandatory retirement ages for judges in the state.
Two of the current members of the court were appointed by Hogan: his former chief legislative lobbyist, Joseph M. Getty, and Michele D. Hotten, who was first appointed to the state’s intermediate appellate court by former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D).
Getty’s term will expire when he turns 70 in 2020, as will the term of Judge Robert N. McDonald. Two others have terms that will expire earlier: Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Clayton Greene Jr. Judge Sally Atkins’ retirement became official on Halloween, when she turned 70.
Democrats have said a court appointed by a Democratic governor would serve as a firewall against Trump administration policies.
But Jealous has caught flak for some of his rhetoric about the state court system. In an interview with The Daily Record in August, Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), the chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, accused Jealous of attempting to politicize judicial appointments in Maryland, something Zirkin said was out of character for the state.
Hogan’s two appointees to the high court were confirmed by the Maryland Senate by unanimous votes in 2016 and 2017.
Finding new districts
Results from the 2020 census will guide the redrawing of Maryland’s congressional and legislative redistricting process. Right now, Maryland’s governor yields incredible power over the process, with his office drawing up congressional and legislative maps, ostensibly with the help of an advisory committee. Legislators have their say as well.
But records in the still-pending federal court dispute over the 2012 congressional map showed that O’Malley’s administration relied heavily on the existing congressional delegation and Democratic insiders to draw the last map – and that partisan considerations were paramount.
Jealous, in late September, said he’d oversee a process that turned the entire 8-person state congressional delegation blue. He later walked back the comment and said he would approach Virginia to seek a compact where both states moved forward with nonpartisan redistricting at the same time.
Hogan, who has advocated for a redistricting commission during his tenure as governor, has vetoed bills passed by Democrats in the Legislature that would have sought multi-state compacts. Hogan has said that Maryland should lead on the issue and move forward with reform, without being hampered by another state’s politics.
Hogan said in an interview with The Associated Press late last week that if he’s reelected and the courts don’t act before the next round of redistricting takes place, he will push again for an independent commission.
Lawsuits. Petty squabbles. Political posturing. Starts and stops. Something has to be done about Midtown Baltimore, a bleak, concrete desert where thousands of state employees work. Does someone have the vision, political will and persuasive powers to transform the neighborhood?