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Government & Politics

Political Notes: No Labels meets signature threshold, AG lobbies DEA on cannabis, Moore administration moves, and more

A path leads to the Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

No Labels, the self-proclaimed centrist political group trying to get on the ballot in all 50 states, has met the signature threshold for party recognition in Maryland.

Elections officials said this week that they had accepted more than the 10,000 signatures required for recognition after No Labels submitted a petition on Dec. 21.

The Maryland State Board of Elections confirmed there were 13,268 signatures accepted and 5,844 rejected out of the 19,472 submitted.

Baltimore County voters were a key force behind the party’s petition. More than 6,000 of the petition signatures came from the county. More than 4,200 Baltimore City residents signed.

The No Labels Maryland Party can now take other steps toward official recognition, including establishing bylaws and an initial governing body.

Nationally, No Labels is trying to get on the ballot in all 50 states to form a “unity ticket,” offering an alternative candidate to President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. However, Democrats have accused the party of being a spoiler that could ultimately land Trump back in the White House.

Former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, have been floated possible candidates for the No Labels presidential bid, although the ticket has yet to be announced.

This week, the Associated Press reported that Hogan has stepped down as co-chair of the national No Labels nonprofit, a move that could signal his preparations to run for president using the group’s ballot line.

Brown joins amicus brief on rescheduling cannabis

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) joined 11 other attorneys general in signing a letter Friday requesting the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to lower cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug within the federal Controlled Substances Act.

According to the DEA, cannabis currently sits as a Schedule I drug that has no “accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Besides cannabis, other Schedule I drugs include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and peyote.

A Schedule III drug is one with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological damage. Some of those drugs include testosterone and anabolic steroids.

Maryland and 37 other states have legalized the medical use of cannabis. Two dozen states and Washington, D.C., have approved recreational cannabis use for adults 21 years and older.

“…States have developed robust regulatory frameworks in efforts to protect consumers from public health risks found in the unregulated illicit marijuana market while also accounting for other recognized risks of marijuana use, especially among youth,” according to the letter submitted to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. “While we are not all aligned on the wisdom of fully legalizing cannabis, we do agree, however, that a state-regulated cannabis industry better protects consumers than the illicit marijuana market or the unregulated intoxicating hemp-derived marketplace.”

State House moves

Some changes in the administration of Gov. Wes Moore (D): Moore announced this week that four of his key aides are getting new roles and responsibilities.

  • Pokuaa Owusu-Acheaw, who had been serving as chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D), will take on the additional title of deputy chief of staff, supporting the administration’s legislative portfolio;
  • Kristina Broadie Jeter now has the title of assistant chief of staff for executive operations and protocol. She previously had been Moore’s senior director of executive operations and protocol and before that was Moore’s director of advance and protocol;
  • Mollie Byron, who had been Moore’s director of intergovernmental affairs is taking on the additional title of senior adviser;
  • Matthew Verghese, state government’s director of federal relations, is also becoming a senior adviser to the governor.

“Over the past year, our office has grown tremendously and our team of dedicated public servants has demonstrated extraordinary commitment,” Moore said in a statement.

Personnel news from the agencies

The Maryland Transportation Authority board Thursday voted to appoint Bruce W. Gartner as the agency’s executive director. He’ll take over from Acting Executive Director Percy E. Dangerfield on Jan. 31.

Gartner will begin serving officially in his role on Jan. 31, when Dangerfield resumes his role as MDTA chief administrative officer.

As head of the MDTA, Gartner will lead a 1,700-employee agency that finances, builds, operates, preserves and improves the state’s eight toll facilities, including the DriveEzMD Maryland tolling system and the nationally accredited Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Gartner served most recently as the administrator of the Howard County Office of Transportation. But he has a long history with the MDTA and the Maryland Department of Transportation. This is his second time serving as executive director of the MDTA, having previously held the role from 2013 to 2015. Before that, he served as the director of policy & governmental affairs and assistant secretary for Transportation Policy & Freight at the MDOT. He also served as director of strategic development at the MDTA.

Meanwhile, Moore’s secretary at the Department of Housing and Community Development, Jacob R. Day, announced some promotions and additions to his leadership team Thursday – and also said that he has created a Division of Homeless Solutions within the agency.

  • Danielle Meister has been appointed as the assistant secretary of the new Division of Homeless Solutions;
  • Ronnie Hammond has been appointed as the director of the Office of Statewide Broadband, responsible for developing and implementing department strategy to close the digital divide in Maryland;
  • Ken Fick was hired as the director of the Division of Finance and Administration, which oversees the financial management and central support services in the department;
  • Stuart Campbell has been appointed as the special adviser for economic mobility, focusing on how the state can address poverty.

“These leadership promotions, hires, and the creation of our agency’s newest division will build on our existing work to create more equitable communities across our state, from closing the digital divide to solving homelessness,” Day said.

Sample-Hughes celebrated

Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Lower Shore) received a sentimental tribute on the House floor Thursday for her tenure as speaker pro temp.

Del. Pam Queen (D-Montgomery) was invited by Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) to honor Sample-Hughes for her service.

“Thanks to Speaker Adrienne Jones, in 2019, Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes was unanimously approved by this body as a speaker pro temp of the Maryland House of Delegates,” Queen said. “This was an historical achievement for any state General Assembly, in which the No. 1 and No. 2 leadership positions were held by women of color.”

Sample-Hughes is currently the only Black lawmaker representing Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“She is a phenomenal woman who can do it all and do it all well,” Queen said. Following Queen’s speech, members of the House gave a standing ovation.

Sample-Hughes stepped down as speaker pro tem Wednesday after serving in the position since 2019. She briefly considered challenging Jones’ new appointee for the role, Del. Dana Stein (D-Baltimore County). He was ultimately elected to the position unanimously.

“The delegate is a steadfast, consistent person who shows his reasonableness to all. He listens to all, all while standing firmly on his convictions,” Del. Regina T. Boyce (D-Baltimore City), said during Stein’s nomination Wednesday.

Ad, blankets and endorsements

Three candidates for the U.S. Senate to replace longtime Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) kept busy this week.

Rep. David Trone (D-6th), one of the top two Democrats in the May 14 primary, released another campaign ad Tuesday titled “Only.” It highlights Trone as someone who doesn’t take any funding from PACs, lobbyists or other outside interests.

The narrator in 30-second video says the word “only” seven times to emphasize Trone’s time working for criminal justice reform, his lifelong opposition to the death penalty and his support from the state’s teacher’s union.

The other Democratic candidate, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, opened a new campaign office Friday in Largo, alongside Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th), one of several members of the state’s federal delegation who endorsed Alsobrooks.

The campaign is holding a celebration for a Montgomery County office opening on Saturday evening in Silver Spring. Maryland’s soon-to-be senior senator, Chris Van Hollen, who endorsed Alsobrooks last year, is expected to join.

To honor the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with acts of service, the campaign asked supporters to donate winter blankets and canned food for those in need at the openings.

Meanwhile, Republican candidate John Teichert announced three endorsements Wednesday.

Teichert, a retired brigadier general in the Air Force, garnered support from Dels. Stuart Schmidt (R-Anne Arundel) and Todd Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) and former state Sen. Ed Reilly, a Republican who represented Anne Arundel.

“A strong leader and dedicated resident of my district, John’s commitment to service for his county and community is unmatched,” Schmidt said in a statement. “Endorsing General Teichert for U.S. Senate is an easy choice.”

Teichert’s campaign said additional endorsements would be announced next Thursday in Westminster.

Early voting in this year’s primary election is May 2 to May 9 and primary Election Day is May 14.

Maine Morning Star reporter Emma Davis contributed to this report.


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Political Notes: No Labels meets signature threshold, AG lobbies DEA on cannabis, Moore administration moves, and more