By Jonathan N. Crawford and Liz Farmer
ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley put his own stamp on the Public Service Commission on Friday, naming two new members and reappointing a third to the governing body that regulates public utilities.
O’Malley nominated as chairman Steven B. Larsen, who as state insurance commissioner from 1997 to 2003 established a pro-consumer reputation when he denied the application of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield to become a for-profit venture. Larsen criticized the multi-million-dollar bonuses that were to have been paid to company officials had the deal gone through.
O’Malley said Larsen would take the lead in rebuilding the PSC, which was badly battered during an election-year political slugfest over rate increases that resulted from deregulation of Maryland utilities.
In addition to Larsen, O’Malley also appointed Susanne Brogan, who had been a member of the PSC under Democratic governors from 1992 to 2001, and reappointed to the commission Harold D. Williams, a former employee of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. who had been on the panel since 2002.
O’Malley said that all three would “balance the interests of Wall Street and Main Street and recreate a stable regulatory climate in our state.”
If approved by the Senate, these appointments effectively put O’Malley’s personal mark on a panel he harshly criticized during the 2006 campaign for being too close to the utilities and for being responsible for utility increases which at one time were going to be as high as 72 percent.
At a press conference in the governor’s reception room, Larsen declined to talk about any energy bill rate hikes, but said the commission faces a tough road ahead.
“There’s a lot of work to do, no doubt about it, and I think we can do it and do it well,” he said.
Larsen fills the vacancy left by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s appointee, Kenneth D. Schisler, who resigned late last month. Schisler was criticized for being too pro-business and the General Assembly attempted to remove him from his post last year.
Larsen was commissioner of the Maryland Insurance Administration under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening from 1997 until his term expired in 2003. He then worked for a locally based law firm and then national health care company Amerigroup Maryland, Inc.
Larsen, Brogan and Williams will join sitting members Allen M. Freifeld and Chuck Boutin.
The three PSC members were among 145 nominations submitted this year in the so-called “Green Bag” of patronage appointments which must be approved by the Senate. The green leather bag, embossed with the Maryland Great Seal, is modeled after the bags used by English barristers of old to convey official documents. Nearly half of this year’s nominees were for positions on county elections boards, while other nominations were made for various state or county boards, commissions or councils. O’Malley nominated six people for the Morgan State University Board of Regents, including U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Baltimore, and Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and former national president of the NAACP who lost to Benjamin L. Cardin in last year’s Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.