Maryland voters this fall will decide whether the governor must pick someone of the same party as the attorney general or comptroller if either of them cannot complete their elected terms.
A special election would follow the next year to complete the term, according to the terms of the proposed constitutional amendment voters are set to consider Nov. 8.
Voting down the measure would allow the governor to make the temporary appointment without regard for party affiliation.
State Del. David Moon (D-20), whose district includes Takoma Park, authored House Bill 260, a constitutional amendment which passed the General Assembly this year and now is up for a statewide referendum.
It’s often referred to as Question 1.
Moon noted he previously tried to change the vacancy process by working with Republicans on vacancies for General Assembly members following a number of appointments Gov. Larry Hogan (R) made at the start of his term.
That initiative died but this one would align the appointment process for the attorney general and comptroller to that of the U.S. Senate.
"I finally came up with a workable compromise that would ensure voters would have the most say as possible when we have an open seat while balancing out some of the concerns that came up in prior debates about this," said Moon, citing the cost and timing of special elections.
State Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18), who co-sponsored the bill and represents Wheaton and southern county communities, said she "wasn't aware that there was no standard procedure, no already pre-established procedure for what would happen with these kind of vacancies."
She supported the idea of the governor being forced to pick one of three candidates recommended by the state central committee of the incumbent party.
Democrats control every statewide elected position in Maryland except governor and lieutenant governor, which are both Republican-held. Democrats also hold wide majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.
"Oh my goodness, the three positions are all elected statewide. The people have not only selected the person that they want but the party they represent," said Gutierrez.
State Del. Kathy Afzali (R-4), who represents Frederick and Carroll counties and ran in 2012 for the sixth congressional district, voted against the bill.
She said Gutierrez's argument is just a means to keep Democrats in power and to prevent a Republican governor with high approval ratings from appointing a Republican.
"What the legislature is saying is, ‘We don't trust you, Larry Hogan, so therefore, we're going to force your hand to appoint someone who's a Democrat.’"
Afzali pointed out the Democrats didn't feel the need to make the same reform during the eight years of former Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) tenure in Annapolis, though the same could be said for Assembly Democrats during the term of his predecessor, former Gov. Bob Erlich (R).
"It's poppycock. Call it what it is, Ana Sol: it's politics. You don't want the governor to appoint anyone. You want him to appoint a Democrat," said Afzali, later adding, "For eight years under O'Malley, they weren't concerned so... now all of the sudden, we need a constitutional amendment to change how we make appointments?"
Moon countered that Republican candidates often lose down-ballot statewide elections by wide margins, meaning voters want Democrats in those positions when they've elected them there.
"When the voters have already weighed in on an election, isn't it peculiar to appoint someone who lost the last election, sometimes by a wide margin?" said Moon.
Afzali alleged the Democratic leadership in Annapolis is "banking on" Hogan losing his re-election race in 2018 and returning "to a one-party system, so they don't think this will be a problem in the future because only Democrats would get elected to statewide office."
"What they've done is they've gone into a panic Larry Hogan is going to win a second term so they're going into every state law trying to find where they can undercut the governor," she said.
Moon, however, noted there are five different procedures in place to fill vacancies of elected officials in Maryland, so he wanted to consolidate the differences in order to create a sense of uniformity.
"Unfortunately, the state Republican Party came out and testified against changing vacancies for House and state Senate," said Moon.
He added criticizing the process this time "rings a little hollow to me."