ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Senate committee approved Joseph Gill's nomination as secretary of Maryland's Department of Natural Resources on Monday, despite Gill's recent conflicts with commercial fishermen.
The issue will next go to the Senate floor for final vote.
In a hearing lasting more than two hours, the Senate Executive Nominations Committee voted 14-1 in Gill's favor. Three Senators abstained, intending to do more research and save their votes for the Senate floor.
A couple dozen watermen came to oppose Gill's nomination, and some said the snowstorm had prevented many more from coming. They see Gill as an ill-tempered bully who dislikes the commercial fishing industry.
Gill's supporters say that isn't his personality and doesn't reflect his record with the DNR, where he was the principal attorney for 14 years and the deputy secretary since 2010.
The hearing focused on a tense conversation between Gill and Robert Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. It occurred in January, after a hearing on a bill that would clarify the DNR's authority to adjust fishing seasons.
Brown said Gill approached him and said, "If this bill does not pass, I will be so conservative and cut quotas that I will hurt you. Did you hear me? I will hurt you."
Brown reported the conversation immediately, and it led to a postponement of Gill's confirmation vote.
Brown also read letters Monday from other watermen who said Gill had lost his temper with them and cursed. They believe he wants to intimidate them and won't listen to their concerns — such as complaints of harvesting quotas being too low.
Gill told committee members he didn't remember swearing at these watermen, and he said Brown had drastically misunderstood him during their January conversation.
According to Gill's account, he was asking Brown to consider the ramifications if the DNR couldn't adjust fishing seasons by public notice. The DNR would have to set extremely conservative quotas at the beginning of each fishing season, which could only hurt fishermen, he said.
Gill said Monday he was responsible for the "miscommunication," and he apologized to Brown.
John Griffin, Gill's predecessor as DNR secretary, told committee members about Gill's integrity and gentle demeanor. He said the watermen were upset about DNR policies Griffin himself established and that Gill was the wrong target.
Robert Neall, a former Maryland senator, urged committee members to base their decision on Gill's entire record, rather than one or two acts of indiscretion.
Sen. Richard Colburn cast the only vote against Gill. He said he anticipated problems between Gill and the watermen.
"He just doesn't have the temperament for this job," Colburn said.