- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
On the final day of the state’s regular legislative session, a bill altering the method of electing the Calvert County commissioners was passed despite opposition from county delegates, commissioners and some county residents.
The bill would require each candidate for the office of county commissioner to specify, when filing a certificate of candidacy with the Calvert County Board of Elections, whether they are running for a specific district or at large, beginning with the November 2014 election.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) and Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-Calvert, St. Mary’s, Charles) cosponsored the bill.
Under the proposed law, candidates in a specific district would run for their district and other candidates who are residents of the county would run at large. Five county commissioners would remain, with one from each of the three districts and two at-large commissioners; however, the change is that the candidates would have to specify which when filing for candidacy.
“I’m very pleased it passed,” Miller said Tuesday. “Basically, the plan means no longer will a person who gets the highest number of votes become the loser of the election.”
Miller said a number of Calvert groups supported changing the election process, since residents, and even some elected officials, often found it confusing.
“One of the commissioners couldn’t even explain how he got elected,” Miller said.
On March 18, Senate Bill 729 unanimously passed in the Senate. The bill remained in the House for the last week of the session, receiving three amendments, all of which were rejected.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) proposed an amendment changing the effective election date to 2018 rather than 2014; it was rejected 38-89.
On Monday, O’Donnell introduced another amendment — which failed 49-88 — to take the bill to county referendum.
Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert) proposed an amendment — which failed 43-93 — Monday, that would have changed the title of the bill to “My Way or the Highway Act of 2013.”
“Senators Mike Miller and Roy Dyson are the architects of the most gerrymandered state in the United States,” Fisher said in a statement April 2. “Now they intend to bully Calvert County.
“... The only election process Miller and Dyson understand is bullying and tyranny,” he said in the statement.
In a March 27 letter to the BOCC, O’Donnell and Fisher requested the BOCC state its official position on the bill, describing it as “crucial” to whether it passes in the House.
The delegates requested the commissioners’ “official position” be sent to “the members of the Calvert County House and Senate delegations as well as the House Environmental Matters Committee no later than Tuesday, April 2.”
The BOCC replied in a letter March 28, stating it did not support the bill.
On Tuesday, Calvert County Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) said, “From the get-go, [the bill] was never really discussed” with the commissioners. “The board should have had some input directly.”
During the House hearing last Thursday, Miller acknowledged the BOCC was in opposition, but he said he did not receive the letter. Miller said when he first introduced the bill, four of the commissioners were “OK” with it and one had expressed “serious reservations.” He also acknowledged the Calvert County Republican Central Committee also opposed the bill.
“The community groups all support it,” Miller said during the hearing, citing the Calvert Education Association, the NAACP of Calvert County, Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Calvert County and the Concerned Black Women of Calvert County, among others.
“It’s about good government. It’s about openness. It’s about ease in terms of understanding who gets elected,” Miller described the bill.
Both the former chairman of the Calvert County Redistricting Committee, Wilson Parran, and member of the CEA Teri McCleaf spoke in support of the bill, saying it would “eliminate confusion” and the current system is “flawed.”
Chairwoman of the CCRCC Ella Ennis opposed the bill, along with residents Preston Pratt and Jason DeLizio, during the hearing.
Ennis said the current system is “not confusing” and candidates have several chances of winning a seat on the BOCC with the current system.
“It works well. It’s a good, working system,” she repeated, adding that “just because” five Republicans won in the last election, she doesn’t think that’s a reason to change the system.
Pratt and DeLizio said they both strongly oppose the bill, equating it to bullying.
“This bill is nothing more than bullying, once again from the state, with a political agenda,” Pratt said. “I urge this committee to vote down this bill to make a bold statement during this session that sometimes it is appropriate and in the best interest of the counties to leave local policy to the county decision makers.”
DeLizio compared the partisan effects the bill could have on county elections to that of high school bullying and cliques.
“I believe that if this is passed it’ll be — for lack of a better word — destruction of good local government,” DeLizio said.
Tuesday was the first day residents could begin filing for candidacy for county commissioner.
Staff writer Meghan Russell contributed to this report.