Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) expressed solidarity with Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) Wednesday over the legislature’s desire to strip Franchot of major regulatory powers.
Hogan called new legislation to take authority over alcohol, tobacco and motor fuels away from the comptroller’s office in favor of a proposed state commission appointed by the governor “a petty, politically motivated personal attack.”
The topic came up at the twice-monthly Board of Public Works meeting, where Hogan, Franchot and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp dole out state contracts. The environment Wednesday seemed more politically charged than usual, with Kopp bidding for a fifth full term as treasurer and Franchot smarting from the just-introduced legislation.
Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) and Del. Warren E. Miller (R-Carroll) introduced legislation this week to take that substantial regulatory chunk out of Franchot’s portfolio. They would transfer the comptroller’s enforcement officers who monitor those industries to the authority of the proposed commission.
The legislation is the latest twist in a long-simmering feud between Franchot and leaders of the General Assembly, who have come to dislike and distrust the four-term comptroller for a list of apostasies, real and imagined. Franchot has used the animus from the Assembly as a trigger to amp up his attacks on “the Annapolis machine” and accuse lawmakers of being stooges of powerful corporate interests.
Wednesday’s BPW meeting started innocuously enough, with Hogan calling Franchot and Kopp “valued partners” who have worked with him to reform the state’s procurement process and “save Maryland taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.”
Kopp, who must convince a majority of state lawmakers to support her reelection bid at a vote scheduled for Feb. 19, echoed the sentiment, but said, in an apparent message to legislators who don’t know her well and are unfamiliar with her role on the BPW, that “I look at the process and make sure that the process applies to all of us equally.”
Kopp, who spent 27 years in the legislature before becoming treasurer in 2002, has come under fire from some members of the Legislative Black Caucus who would like to see a minority serving as treasurer. Additionally, some lawmakers and progressives believe she doesn’t joust forcefully enough with Hogan and Franchot, who tend to function as a tag team on the BPW and delight in their mutual disdain for Democratic legislative hegemony.
When it was Franchot’s turn to make opening remarks Wednesday, he reiterated his dismay over the bill – a day earlier, he said Kramer was fundamentally corrupt.
“I’ve been in this town long enough to have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, but this piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ben Kramer, sheds light on the darkest aspects of the Annapolis machine,” Franchot said, arguing that the bill is being driven “from the very, very top” of legislative leadership.
Hogan, who said he wasn’t planning to address the legislation targeting Franchot, suggested that Democratic lawmakers may be pushing the bill “because he’s the most personally popular, bipartisan Democratic elected official in the state.”
Hogan went on to say that while the media have written breathlessly about Republican legislators’ attempts to weaken Democratic governors in other states, they have not written as extensively about the Democrats’ attempts to take his power away in Maryland.
“This legislature has introduced 99 pieces of legislation to take powers away from me as governor,” he said. Then turning to Franchot, he added, “So welcome to the club.”
Franchot replied, “It makes me feel better already.”
And since the topic, loosely, was booze, Hogan began to sing, “99 bills to take my power away, 99 bills to take my power away. Take one down, pass it around, 98 bills to take my power away.”
Kopp jumped in soon after.
“Obviously, the spirit of Kumbaya lasted maybe 75 seconds,” she said, referring to Hogan’s earlier remarks about the BPW members’ ability to work together despite political differences.
Without specifically addressing the Kramer-Miller legislation, Kopp defended the legitimacy of lawmakers considering changes to government agencies and regulatory functions.
“I don’t think calling people’s motives into question helps the discussion,” she said. “…Every legislature and every gubernatorial administration have looked at reorganizations.”
Franchot said he is convinced that 50 law enforcement agents under his authority are “being used as pawns” in a power play and that despite his political battles with lawmakers there has not been “one scintilla” of criticism about his agency’s oversight of the alcohol, tobacco and motor fuels industries.
Franchot also vowed to continue crusading.
“I’m a reformer,” he said. “I’m not going to shut up.”
Moments later, the Board of Public Works returned to its regularly scheduled programming.