Only in Maryland? Hogan Taps Bernie Sanders Fan for Legislative Seat

Del. Sheila Ruth (D-Baltimore County) is one of 18 activists in Progressive Maryland's inaugural candidate training program.

As some lawmakers seek to change the way legislative vacancies are filled in Maryland, take a minute to appreciate the irony of the current state law for filling vacant legislative seats:

On Thursday, Republican Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. appointed a new member of the House of Delegates who could well be one of the most left-wing lawmakers ever to serve in Annapolis. She’s the co-chair of Our Revolution Baltimore.

Hogan announced Thursday that he was appointing Sheila Ruth, a long time progressive activist in Baltimore County, to a House seat in District 44B. Ruth will replace Charles E. Sydnor III (D), who was elevated from the House to the state Senate a few weeks ago to fill a vacancy in the upper chamber.

At the same time, Hogan announced Thursday that he was appointing Del. Shelly L. Hettleman, another Baltimore County Democrat, to the state Senate to replace former Sen. Robert A. Zirkin (D), who resigned at the beginning of the year.

Both Hettleman and Ruth were recommended for their jobs by the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee — and both are considerably to the left of their predecessors.

“I am confident that Delegate Hettleman and Ms. Ruth will continue to represent the citizens of Baltimore County admirably in their respective roles,” Hogan said in a statement. “I offer Delegate Hettleman and Ms. Ruth my sincere congratulations and look forward to working with them during this legislative session.”

Progressive organizations were especially excited by the dual appointments. The group Indivisible Baltimore tweeted Thursday: “Both @shellyhettleman & @SheilaRuth are outstanding public servants dedicated to serving and improving our communities.”

Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) has been appointed to the state Senate. File photo

Hettleman was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2014 after serving as a political lieutenant to U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D). Ruth, a longtime progressive and community activist who ran unsuccessfully for the Baltimore County Council in 2018, is currently seeking to become a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, pledged to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

State Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said Thursday that Hettleman would be sworn into her new seat on Monday evening.

With Hettleman’s and Ruth’s appointments, the General Assembly will have nine members who were appointed to their seats since the end of the 2019 legislative session. And Hettleman’s promotion means the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee over the course of the next few weeks will have to recommend a replacement for her House seat, bringing the number of new appointees to 10.

Earlier this week, Del. Chanel Branch (D-Baltimore City) was sworn in to replace former Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, who resigned last month ahead of a federal indictment on corruption charges. Branch is the daughter of House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D) and will represent the same district as her father.

The frenzy of appointments may give momentum to a measure providing for special elections to fill legislative vacancies during the first two years of a four-year legislative term. Under the bipartisan bill, vacancies in the second half of a legislative term would be filled using the current appointment process.

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.