Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio moved closer to confirmation as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources Monday evening, gaining approval from the Senate Executive Nominations Committee following an hour-long hearing.
Despite taking some pointed questions about her possible role in the firing or demotion of half a dozen agency scientists during Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s first term – and about the direction of DNR under the Republican chief executive – the panel voted 18-1 to send her nomination to the full Senate, with only Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chair Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) voting against her.
Haddaway-Riccio’s nomination will likely be taken up on the Senate floor Friday.
Haddaway-Riccio, who spent 12 years representing the Eastern Shore on the House of Delegates before joining the Hogan administration in 2015, was popular with her colleagues and seen as a moderate Republican, especially on environmental issues.
But before and during the hearing, Pinsky suggested that the Hogan administration has become too close to watermen and has sacrificed science for industry interests, especially when it comes to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
“I appreciate that you’re a decent human being, but we also consider track record,” he told Haddaway-Riccio.
The nominee, who is already serving as acting secretary, appeared to acknowledge the controversy during her opening remarks to the committee.
“I realize I am inheriting a department that is full of professionals who are passionate about their mission,” she said.
Under sharp questions from Pinsky, who questioned her about the timing of meetings between Hogan administration officials and leading watermen, which preceded the firings and demotions of certain agency scientists, Haddaway-Riccio refused to answer questions about personnel matters or about “conversations I’ve had with constituents.”
The nominee acknowledged that one of her goals as DNR secretary will be to advance Hogan’s agenda, but she also pledged to be fair-minded and sensitive to the science.
“I’ve always prided myself at being able to work with a variety of stakeholders,” she said.
Pressed by Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard and Baltimore), Haddaway-Riccio said she would ultimately be responsible for personnel decisions at the agency, though she acknowledged that Hogan’s appointments office has forwarded some resumes her way.
While a few Democrats said they weren’t completely comfortable with the direction Hogan is taking DNR, they all, with the exception of Pinsky, voted for Haddaway-Riccio.
“I think she’s going to do a great job of bringing groups together,” said Senate Minority Whio Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore).