ANNAPOLIS – Richard Hug, a member of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, said he doesn’t understand all the fuss over his involvement in soliciting funds in support of slot machines.
“It’s all politics,” the chief fund-raiser in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s campaign said of calls for his resignation or removal.
Politics, many would agree, is exactly what it is.
The Board of Regents, the governing body of the system’s 13 institutions, is composed of 17 members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. While that alone yokes regents to the political process, it is just the most obvious evidence of the politics underlying the board.
The day news reports surfaced that Hug was drumming up funds from racing interests for the nonprofit, pro-slots group Citizens for Maryland’s Future, six Democratic lawmakers called for his resignation. Just days later, two Republican lawmakers sent out a press release defending Hug.
But the politics were apparent long before then.
“The influences (on regent appointments) are broad, and the appointing person will take into consideration many, many things, I’m sure,” said Regent Joseph Tydings, a former delegate and U.S. senator. “Ideally the only thing he takes into consideration are the best interests of the university, but you live in the real world.”
Republican governors are more likely to appoint Republican regents, while Democratic governors are more likely to appoint Democratic regents, Tydings said.
Delegate Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, one of the lawmakers who defended Hug, agreed.
“Any appointment to any board is going to reflect the political philosophy of the governor,” he said. “It makes sense that the board eventually reflects the governor’s point of view.”
Ehrlich has appointed seven regents so far, including Hug, and the five-year terms of four others, and the one-year term of the student regent, expire this year.
It would be “unethical” for the governor to make an appointment as compensation for support, said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver, who dismissed the idea that any of his appointments were political.
Hug, chairman emeritus of the Environmental Elements Corp., raised roughly $10 million for Ehrlich’s gubernatorial campaign. He is the former chairman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and past director of the BlueCross BlueShield program of Maryland and the Maryland National Bank.
Hug also drew fire last fall when he proposed doubling tuition to force students to graduate more quickly and add prestige to the system.
Former Gov. Marvin Mandel, who was appointed to the regents by Ehrlich last July, said Ehrlich and other governors have picked men and women for the regents who have an interest in and can provide support to higher education.
“A good governor tries to appoint the best people,” he said. “Just because he knows them or they supported him doesn’t make them unsuited.”
Despite the probable merit of Ehrlich’s regents’ appointments, discussion about appropriate selection practices in Maryland is warranted, said Tom Ingram, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
Ingram referenced regents’ appointments by former Gov. Parris Glendening, who, near the end of his administration, made a bid to become chancellor of the system. Glendening withdrew after his candidacy was sharply criticized.
“We still have some concerns about the importance of sustaining nonpartisanship in the appointment process,” Ingram said. “The former administration got confused about this matter.”
In fact, during her gubernatorial campaign, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said that, if elected, she would establish a merit selection panel to guide regents’ appointments.
Townsend declined to comment for this story, but told The (Baltimore) Sun in September 2002 that, “You don’t want the Board of Regents to be chosen, to have the appearance that it is chosen, solely because it is the governor’s friends. I think it’s very important to bring a sense of order and faith in the Board of Regents.”
Hug is not doing anything unethical or illegal by raising funds to lobby for slots, DeLeaver said, though there are reports that Hug’s group, Citizens for Maryland’s Future, is being investigated by U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio.
“We can’t comment on any investigations from our office,” DiBiagio spokeswoman Vickie LeDuc said.
Ingram said a possible investigation of a sitting university regent or trustee is rare.
“It is very unusual and very inappropriate for a member of a governing board to engage in political activity that is clearly partisan, as it seems to be in Maryland at this time,” he said.
Hug may be the latest controversial regent, but he’s certainly not the first.
Former Regent Chairman Nathan Chapman Jr., a Glendening appointee, stepped down from his regency last July amid a federal investigation and indictment that he defrauded the state’s pension system, which he managed.
Nor is Hug the only active regent embroiled in politics.
Retired Adm. Charles Larson ran for lieutenant governor on Townsend’s ticket and James Rosapepe, former delegate and ambassador to Romania, raised funds for Wesley Clark’s failed presidential campaign.
Few, if any, concerns were raised over Larson’s and Rosapepe’s activities, a distinction not lost on McMillan, who said he believes there was an uproar over Hug’s fund-raising because he is Republican.
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” McMillan said.
Tydings, who hails from a political family and has been in the public limelight since his election to the House of Delegates in 1955, said regents should be free to participate in politics, but condemnation should be taken in stride.
“By definition,” he said, “when you go into the political arena, you can expect to be criticized.” – 30 – CNS-2-20-04