- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

ANNAPOLIS After more than two hours of passionate, sometimes angry partisan debate, the state Senate yesterday rejected Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's nomination of Lynn Buhl to head the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The nomination was defeated by a 26-21 vote. All 14 Republicans and seven Democrats supported the nomination of the former mid-level manager in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, while 26 Democrats voted against it, questioning her qualifications for the position.
Republican leaders called Mrs. Buhl "eminently qualified" and accused Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Southern Maryland Democrat, of coercing undecided, moderate Democrats to vote against her.
"I think everyone understands that the fix is in on this," said Sen. Andrew Harris, Baltimore County Republican, the minority whip.
Mr. Ehrlich, the first Republican to hold the highest office in this Democrat-dominated state in more than three decades, said he viewed Mrs. Buhl's rejection as partisan politics, but he said the episode was only a "hiccup" in what had so far been a good bipartisan working relationship with the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
"I guess for those who want to deal political defeat, I guess it is a good day for them," Mr. Ehrlich said. "It's a bad day for the Senate. It's disappointing."
"It was made clear to me by a number of Democratic senators that there was a price to be paid for supporting her on the Senate floor," the governor added.
Larry Hogan Jr., Mr. Ehrlich's appointments secretary, said Mr. Miller had threatened to shoot down a couple of the governor's earlier nominations to demonstrate the strength of the heavily Democratic Legislature, which has not shared power with a Republican governor since 1968.
"He said to me, 'The bull's eye now moves to that lady from Michigan,'" Mr. Hogan said.
Mr. Miller brushed aside such claims, saying Mrs. Buhl's nomination "was mishandled by the governor's staff from the get-go, and they know it."
Mr. Miller said Mrs. Buhl demonstrated a lack of knowledge about Maryland's environmental issues at a hearing last week before a Senate committee considering her nomination.
"The puff questions she gets from the senators, she says, 'I don't know; I don't know; I don't know,'" Mr. Miller said.
Mrs. Buhl's defeat marks the first time in Maryland history a governor's nominee for a Cabinet position has been rejected. Republicans opposed two of former Gov. Parris N. Glendening's appointments but didn't have enough votes to reject them.
"There is split government," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Not everything is going to be easy."
Mr. Ehrlich pledged to find a role for Mrs. Buhl in his administration. The former lawyer for the federal Environmental Protection Agency and DaimlerChrysler Corp. immediately left town for a few days after watching the vote from the Senate's second-floor gallery. She released a brief statement expressing her disappointment and thanking Mr. Ehrlich for his support.
Technically, she is still acting secretary of the environment and could continue to serve in that capacity until the Legislature meets again, said Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick. If she chooses to step down, Kenneth Philbrick, a former Lockheed Martin attorney appointed to be Mrs. Buhl's deputy, will become acting secretary.
Mr. Schurick said the administration had no plans of nominating someone else to become secretary before the end of the legislative session next month.
"I don't think there's a person in the world who would put themselves through this process," he said.
Yesterday's vote capped more than a week of frenzied lobbying and posturing by both sides in the battle. Mr. Ehrlich has said repeatedly that he wants to foster a friendlier atmosphere for businesses in Maryland and fashion a Department of the Environment that is not "in permanent 'gotcha' mode" with violators of regulations.
Two weeks ago, a coalition of environmental groups asked Mr. Ehrlich to withdraw his nomination of Mrs. Buhl, saying she has "no experience advocating for environmental protection." In debate yesterday, the Senate's leading environmental voice, Sen. Brian Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, spoke about the reputation of Michigan's environmental department, in which Mrs. Buhl served under then-Gov. John Engler.
Mr. Frosh said the department saw its mission as serving big businesses rather than protecting the environment and the well-being of Michigan's citizens. Mr. Frosh reminded senators that when he asked Mrs. Buhl at last week's hearing whether there were any department policies she disagreed with, she replied "not that I recall."
Mr. Ehrlich's efforts to reach a compromise with Mr. Frosh over the weekend fell through. Mr. Frosh suggested the Senate could bypass a vote, allowing Buhl to serve as environmental secretary until the Legislature meets again next January, when they would reconsider her appointment based on the merits of her work in office.
Mr. Ehrlich said he would not "leave her out there for a year so they could jerk her around."
Mr. Frosh said the governor's choice was telling. "Why didn't the administration want to see how she would perform the next nine months?" he asked.

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