Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Maryland’s Administrator for Life, Part Three

State Board of Elections (SBE) Administrator Linda Lamone has earned a legion of enemies in her 12-year tenure at the agency. But she has one very powerful friend: Senate President Mike “Big Daddy” Miller. And he was there to help in her hour of need in the spring of 2005.

Dissatisfied with having a Democrat as the SBE Administrator, Governor Robert Ehrlich plotted to get rid of her. State law at that time required four of five votes from the Board for an ouster. Ehrlich had three Republicans and a sympathetic Democrat who suspended Lamone but the matter went to court. Lamone’s fate degenerated into a partisan fight between Ehrlich and the Democratic General Assembly leadership. The Democrats ultimately won by passing the “Linda Lamone for Life” bill over Ehrlich’s veto, which ensured that Lamone would remain in office even if voted out by the Board until the Senate confirmed a successor. The Gazette wrote this about the bill:

The bill is so restrictive that the elections administrator could not be removed from office even if all five members of the State Board of Elections vote to fire her, even if she were convicted of first-degree murder, sentenced to death row and stripped of her voting rights. Only when the state Senate approves a replacement could she be removed. Now that’s job security.
Who determines when - or if - a replacement could ever be considered by the Senate? Mike Miller, of course. The Gazette presented this theory explaining Lamone’s alliance with Big Daddy:

Lamone serves on the Attorney Grievance Commission, which heard a complaint from then GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele into Miller's contacts with members of the Maryland Court of Appeals over the 2002 redistricting map. Miller, who could have faced disbarment, emerged unscathed.

After the charges against him were made public, Miller told reporters that he did not even know that Lamone was on the commission.

Lamone calls the idea that she protected Miller “preposterous and insulting.” She was appointed to the commission by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

Chief Judge Robert M. Bell “obviously thinks enough of me that he's reappointed me several times,” she said.
Regardless of Big Daddy’s relationship with Lamone, the two have overlapping interests. Miller is fairly satisfied with today’s campaign finance system because it has performed well in keeping his Democratic majority solid. Lamone seeks to block any reforms that challenge her power or create more work for her agency. The two agree on one thing: change should be regarded with suspicion. That explains Lamone’s testimony against the Montgomery County Delegation’s local bill allowing more disclosure in their jurisdiction. Her rationale for opposing the bill, which is that “the public’s access to campaign finance reports would be fragmented and more challenging,” has no basis in reality.

Annapolis custom holds that local bills (those that apply only to one county) often pass the full General Assembly if they are supported by their delegations. But Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-43), Chair of the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, bottled up this bill. That is how Linda Lamone was able to block a reform supported by the entire Montgomery County government as well as numerous progressive groups.

One Lamone watcher describes her performance this way:

The State Board of Elections does an impressive amount of work. Lamone or her assistants show up at every relevant hearing, submit detailed testimony, and apparently devote many hours influencing legislation through backchannels and private conversations. The only work they seem unwilling to handle is the work of actually running an election.

Rather than provide real impartial guidance to make Maryland's elections work better, Lamone is far more concerned with reducing her own responsibilities and deflecting any change the SBE would have to accommodate or adapt to.

Imagine the state police spending more than half their time defeating proposals that would require them to learn new technology, or receive training that would improve their effectiveness. Imagine the department of the environment spending taxpayer resources every year on lobbying campaigns to resist improvements to protect the Bay. This is pretty much what the SBE does in placing turf and self-preservation over the public good.
Despite all of this, Maryland’s Administrator for Life enjoys enormous job security that depends on one man: Mike Miller. That makes Big Daddy Lamone’s true boss.

There is one silver lining. Maryland does not have a “Senate President for Life” law – yet.