Sen. Norman’s Death Sparks Last-Minute GOP Maneuvering
By William F. Zorzi
The Maryland Republican Party’s plans for putting forward the right candidate to fill the empty slot on the ballot in place of the late state Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr. are part contortionist’s wizardry and part political razzle dazzle — but all legal.
No one in the GOP wanted to encroach on the genuine grief of Norman’s friends and family, but the simple truth of the matter was that the party faced a deadline under state election law for coming up with a candidate to run for his District 35 seat before 5 p.m. Monday.
Norman, a Bel Air attorney who represented Harford and Cecil counties, died suddenly Sunday morning, shocking colleagues at home and in Annapolis.
But politically, his passing complicated what had been a clear and straightforward path.
Norman faced no re-election opposition – at all – in either the Republican primary or the general election, meaning he had a free pass to return to the Senate. His death, however, meant there then were no candidates at all running for the District 35 Senate seat.
In an unfortunate coincidence, Monday just happened to be the legal deadline for the party’s state central committee to come up with a candidate to fill any vacancy for an office appearing on the primary election ballot.
No one really wanted to discuss the matter on the record Monday, but that did not stop the Republican State Central Committee from acting, albeit grudgingly, as required by state law.
Late Monday afternoon, the GOP put up Jason C. Gallion, a 41-year-old Republican from Havre de Grace who has run before for both the Harford County Council and Maryland House of Delegates, to take Norman’s spot on the June 26 Senate primary ballot.
Ordinarily, that would mean Gallion would be the next senator, all but automatically elected from District 35. But things never seem to be that simple.
The party actually wants Del. Teresa E. Reilly, 59, a first-term House of Delegates member from District 35B whose husband, James J. Reilly, is clerk of Harford County Circuit Court, to ascend. Delegate Reilly was a close friend of Norman and was his chief of staff when he was a member of the House of Delegates.
The trouble is, Delegate Reilly has filed for re-election, and the withdraw deadline for candidates appearing on the primary ballot has already passed. As she can no longer withdraw, she legally cannot run for Senator Norman’s Senate seat because she would be running for two seats in the legislature.
Plus, party leaders want Gallion in the House, anyway, not the Senate, where he is bound.
Only Delegate Reilly and Del. Andrew P. Cassilly, also a first-term Republican member of the House, are running for District 35B’s two seats in the primary. They have only one challenger in the Nov. 6 general election, Ronnie Teitler Davis, a Democrat running unopposed in the primary.
So, in order to get all the puzzle pieces where the GOP party leaders want them, after Gallion and Reilly “win” their uncontested primary races for Senate and House, respectively, both would decline to accept the party’s nominations and file a “certificate of declination,” accordingly.
That would create two vacancies, which the Republican State Central Committee has the charge of filling.
Under the law, that means the central committee would file a “certificate of designation” with the Board of Elections, state who the replacements for House and Senate would be on the ballot. In turn, each “successor nominee” – in this case, both Gallion and Reilly – would file a certificate of candidacy with the election board, thus ensuring that everyone’s where they are supposed to be, come the general election.
Reilly, who offered a tribute to Norman on the House floor Monday, acknowledged in a brief interview that Republican leaders were still trying to sort the matter out.
“This is an unusual event,” she said. “It’s never happened.”
Reilly said state law on vacancies “doesn’t really address itself to the fullest extent” and that party leaders will continue to confer with the attorney general’s office, elections officials and other lawyers to see what course of action to take. But they don’t want to do anything this week so as to honor Norman, whose funeral is Friday [see related story].
“We’ll jump back in next week to see what we can do,” Reilly said.
In the interim, that still leaves a spot open in the Maryland Senate for the remaining five weeks of the General Assembly session. The GOP is not saying, but presumably, the central committee would recommend Reilly for Norman’s seat and Gallion for what would then become Reilly’s open House seat.
From there, it would only require Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to formally make the appointments.
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R), whose district includes a slice of Harford County, suggested that leaders want to keep Norman’s seat vacant for at least a week.
“Give it a week,” he said. “Let the family mourn. Let the Senate mourn.”
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.