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Senators grill Hogan nominee over loyalties

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan’s latest appointment to the Public Service Commission faced tough questioning Monday night from the Senate Executive Nominations committee. The questions centered around emails the nominee, Michael T. Richard, exchanged with Hogan's office, that hinted at a potential bias.

Before Richard’s recess appointment to the utility regulator, he was Hogan’s deputy chief of staff. 

Legislators said lingering loyalties to the Republican executive were still apparent in emails obtained by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

In one January email, Richard told Hogan policy director Adam Dubitsky about an application for an offshore wind energy credit nearly a month before the application became public outside the Public Service Commission. Hogan's opposition to the offshore wind program was part of his platform in his 2014 campaign for governor.

Sen. Mac Middleton, a Democrat from Charles County, said the Public Service Commission will need to pick the wind operators independently of opinions from the governor's office or the legislature.

“You can’t interject yourself — I want this, I want that. Governor help me, legislature help me," he said to Richard Monday night. "Where are you going to be? Are you going to be able to make an independent decision on that?”

Richard told committee members the emails were sent as part of his transition out of the governor’s office. He said he was sorry they cast doubt on his independence.

The committee plans to vote on the appointment next week.