Senate confirms Butler as first Black state police superintendent; Republicans want vote on elections board picks
A controversial nominee to lead the Maryland State Police was confirmed by the Senate on Friday.
The confirmation of retired Lt. Col. Roland Butler comes two days after the Senate Executive Nominations Committee announced an unusual solution to break the logjam. The panel voted to recommend him to the full Senate. Even so, the historic pick by Gov. Wes Moore (D) faced opposition on the Senate floor from four Prince George’s County Democrats including Sen. Joanne C. Benson.
“Lt. Col. Butler will work in partnership to execute his vision and reform the department by increasing morale, building trust, and addressing the concerns that were raised both prior to his tenure and during the nomination process,” Moore said in a statement. “Lt. Col. Butler has my full confidence – I know he will build a department that reflects the values of our great state and is diverse, well-trained, and thoroughly prepared for any challenge we might face.”
Benson, who led the charge against Butler over the last month was unsuccessful in her attempt to delay a vote until next week.
The Senate voted 43-4 to confirm Butler. Benson was joined by Sens. Malcolm Augustine, Michael A. Jackson and Jim Rosapepe, all of whom represent Prince George’s County. The Senate vote makes Butler the first Black superintendent in the history of the department.
Jackson told colleagues he voted against Butler because he wanted the Senate to have more time to consider the nominee and leadership of an agency that has just 166 Black officers.
“We asked for a few short days to continue to look at this candidate and to take into that consideration so that’s why I’m voting no on this candidate,” said Jackson.
Butler retired earlier this year from the agency after a 30-year career. He served in a number of leadership positions while there. The most visible of those was his time as chief of the Field Operations Bureau. The bureau is responsible for more than 1,000 troopers assigned to 23 barracks statewide.
Critics, led by Benson, said Butler failed to do enough to address complaints of racism and disparate treatment of Black officers when it came to promotions and discipline.
The agency is the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into discriminatory practices. A class-action lawsuit was also filed by three troopers against the agency in October.
On Wednesday, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted to recommend Butler for confirmation after tying his confirmation to a pair of required reports. Those reports are due on July 1 and Dec. 15 respectively. Until then, the state would withhold $250,000 from the budget for the superintendent’s office.
“The committee voted on Monday to put some very specific guardrails in place thanks to help from budget tax that we budget language that we do, we do realize there have been some issues with some of the minorities and issues in the in the state troopers office or state troopers department but we put some very specific guardrails in place to address the questions that we’ve heard repeatedly for the last six weeks,” said Senate Executive Nominations Committee Chair Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel).
Republicans push for vote on elections nominees
Senate Republicans on Friday called on their Democratic counterparts to vote on two nominees to boards of elections.
The Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted Monday to hold the nominations of Christine McCloud and Michelle Ewing. The pair were nominated to the state and Talbot County boards of elections, respectively.
Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll and Frederick) called on Democrats to allow McCloud and Ewing a vote.
He called for deference by lawmakers when it comes to nominations made by the Republican party.
McCloud, a Howard County resident, was appointed to the Maryland State Board of Elections by the state Republican Party. Ewing’s appointment to the Talbot board came from that county’s Republican Central Committee.
McCloud was one of three nominees to the state board. The other two — a Democrat and a Republican — were both confirmed by the Senate.
“They are both highly qualified, thoughtful people who are community leaders and will be fair, impartial and diligent members of our State Board, especially as we are going to be getting a new administrator,” said Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery). “I think the fact that both parties have forwarded one person who is eligible to serve us well, bodes well. And I just hope that we can expect that to continue from both parties.”
Both McCloud and Ewing both ran into confirmation problems earlier in the week that led to the committee holding their nominations.
They are the second and third Republican elections appointees to run into trouble this year.
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Ewing was the subject of a late social media effort to block her nomination to the Talbot County Board of Elections. Opponents objected to her support for keeping a Confederate monument on the lawn of the Talbot County courthouse, and critics also made claims that she was an election denier.
Ewing was not interviewed by the committee. In an interview, she told Maryland Matters that she would not appear before the committee because she had been told the panel would not forward her name to the full Senate.
Ewing, who in an interview described herself as a supporter of former President Donald Trump, denied being an election denier.
“I believe the election in Talbot County was legitimate,” she said, adding that she similarly believed the 2020 election in Maryland was not tainted.
But Ewing said she had concerns, shared by many other Republicans, about elections in other states including Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
McCloud, a hypnotherapist, was questioned about her lack of election experience — limited to volunteer work holding a sign at a polling place for an unidentified candidate.
McCloud was also asked about her personal views about the legitimacy of the 2022 election as well as the ability to carry guns into polling places.
The key moment, however, was when McCloud was asked about her views on the use of mail-in ballots.
“I don’t think it is secure,” McCloud said during the Monday hearing. “I know people that have gotten mail in ballots sent to their house and they’ve gotten several mail-in ballots. It just seems like it’s not 100%.”
Beidle said Ready could send a letter to put the nominations back on a committee agenda, but didn’t commit to any further action.