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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Political Notes: A Barnburner in Southern Md., Van Hollen Makes It Official, Masking Changes, Senator Pulls Chief Judge Bill

Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

With Del. Gerald W. Clark (R-Calvert) set to retire, the Republican primary to replace him is suddenly looking like it could be one of the marquee legislative races of the 2022 cycle.

Last week, three-term St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd B. Morgan, who is barred by law from seeking another term, entered the District 29C House race. “I believe there is more work to be done,” he said in his announcement statement.

Morgan’s candidacy puts him on a GOP primary collision course with Timothy E. Gowen, the adjutant general for the Maryland National Guard, who announced his intention to run for the House seat two weeks earlier. Gowen told Southern Maryland News that he wants to give “rational, reasonable data-driven arguments to the conservative cause.”

The largely rural district takes in southern Calvert County, crosses the Patuxent River at the Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge and then covers much of central St. Mary’s County.

Both candidates have ties to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station: Morgan has worked for a military contractor for decades and is a former president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance. Gowen was an engineer at the Pax River Navy base for a quarter century before joining the Hogan administration.

Morgan has taken a more traditional political path, including leadership in local business and civic organizations.

“There is no substitute for experience,” he says on his campaign website.

Clark has served in the House since 2016, after serving for a dozen years on the Calvert County Commission. He was one of six Republicans who applied for the House vacancy when Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) appointed then-Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert) to sit on the Public Service Commission.

“It’s time for the younger people to take over,” Clark, 69, recently told Calvert County commissioners of his decision to retire.

Democrats have yet to field a candidate in District 29C. Four years ago, Clark won a full term with 57% of the vote.

Van Hollen campaign video

There was never any doubt that U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) would seek a second term. Through the end of 2021, he had raised just shy of $5 million for his campaign.

But now that Hogan has formally decided against challenging Van Hollen, the senator is making his reelection bid official. He’s expected to file campaign papers at the Maryland State Board of Elections in Annapolis on Tuesday, and his campaign is releasing a two-minute video with Van Hollen discussing the nation’s struggles of the recent past and the challenges ahead.

“Since Joe Biden was sworn in, we’ve taken bold action to help Americans weather the storm and start to tackle the challenges we face,” Van Hollen says in the campaign spot.

Van Hollen says he likes to operate in a bipartisan manner, but also has harsh words for Senate Republicans and the obstructionist tactics of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“The test of whether we take important action can’t be whether Mitch McConnell agrees or disagrees,” Van Hollen says.

Since first winning a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1990, Van Hollen has never lost an election. And with Hogan out of the picture, his perfect electoral record is almost certain to remain intact.

Masking mandate lifted in state buildings

Hogan announced Monday that the mask requirement for state buildings will end next week.

“Given the dramatic declines in our health metrics, we are now able to take another step toward normalcy in state operations,” Hogan said in a statement. “In addition, we continue to offer paid leave for state employees to get their booster shots, which provide critical protection against the virus and its variants. I want to thank all of our dedicated state employees for their tireless efforts that have helped make Maryland’s COVID-19 response a national model.”

Hogan cited a seven-day COVID-19 testing positivity rate of 3.77% and a drop in hospitalizations to 751 people in announcing the policy shift.

Maryland’s largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3, responded with a statement urging a return to masking policies.

“Just like the Federal Government mandates people wear seatbelts, even if some people don’t like them, the Governor should continue to require masking in State facilities,” AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran said in a written statement. “Hogan’s decision to cancel masking inside of state facilities puts the public and frontline workers at risk, especially those in congregate care facilities with no opportunity to social distance. Rather than following the advice of our public health experts, the Governor is creating chaos and prolonging the pandemic by increasing the risk for frontline heroes.”

The change in policy at state buildings will take effect Feb. 22. At that time, masks will continue to be strongly recommended for employees and visitors who are unvaccinated, the governor’s office said.

The change will not effect the State House, where the State House Trust’s masking policy — masks required in public and shared spaces of the building — remains in place.

Spokesmen for the top legislative leaders said masking protocols would remain in place in the House and Senate chambers and office buildings.

Legislation on chief judge withdrawn

In addition to considering the fate of Hogan nominees to 69 state boards and commissions Monday night, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee was scheduled to take up a bill that would give the Senate confirmation powers over a governor’s appointment to be chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals. But it turned out the sponsor, Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), had withdrawn the bill weeks earlier.

Senators do have advise and consent powers over the governor’s judicial appointments — and there are seven judges on the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court. In fact, the latest judge to be nominated to the court by Hogan, Stephen B. Gould, is scheduled for a confirmation vote in the state Senate later this week. But chief judges, who are selected from among the sitting judges on the appeals court, do not have to go through a separate confirmation vote when they are being elevated to the top job.

Carter’s bill would have changed that — and appeared written to target the next chief justice appointment. The current chief judge, Joseph M. Getty, is due to step down in mid-April, when he turns 70, the mandatory retirement age for state judges.

Carter’s bill would have gone into effect on July 1 if it had passed, and would be unlikely to apply to the looming vacancy.