Gov. Wes Moore (D) on Thursday evening confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in Annapolis: That he’s nominating Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) for a slot on the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Barve, who has served in Annapolis since 1991 and been the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee since 2015, will bring his expertise on climate and technology to an important if obscure regulatory body that will play an increasingly prominent role in the state’s efforts to combat climate change. In a statement, Moore called Barve “the ideal candidate for this role.”

Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee Chair Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery). Credit: Danielle E. Gaines

“I am confident in Delegate Barve’s ability to bolster my administration’s commitment to environmental stewardship while ensuring ratepayers are protected,” he said.

The Public Service Commission regulates most electric and gas utilities in the state and certain passenger transportation companies, including taxi cabs operating in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Cumberland and Hagerstown.

Moore has set about recasting the five-member commission, rescinding two recess appointments that former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) made to the commission last year and nominating Fred Hoover, a former director of the Maryland Energy Administration, to be the new chair to replace another Hogan appointee. Hoover’s nomination was heard by the Senate Executive Nominations Committee on Monday and he is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate on Friday.

A second Moore nominee to the PSC, Juan Alvarado, an official with the American Gas Association, withdrew on Feb. 28 amid criticism from environmental groups and questions about Alvarado’s role before and after a fatal gas explosion at an apartment complex in Silver Spring when he was a staffer at the commission. Moore still has one more seat on the PSC to fill.

Barve is a trailblazing figure in the Maryland General Assembly. He was the first Indian-American and the first Hindu elected to a state legislature in the nation. Representing Gaithersburg and Rockville in the House, Barve quickly rose to become a long-serving chair of the Montgomery County House delegation, and served as House majority leader under the late Speaker Michael E. Busch (D), who later appointed Barve to chair the newly-reconstituted Environment and Transportation panel.

Barve was also a leading wit in the General Assembly, appearing for years as “Kumar the Magnificent” in the annual but now-defunct Legislative Follies, a skit that was based on Johnny Carson’s “Carnac the Magnificent” role on “The Tonight Show.”

During his 33 years in the legislature, Barve worked on economic development, environmental regulation, energy generation and conservation, greenhouse gas reduction and tax policy, and he was an early champion of the state’s fledgling high-tech industry.

“He has been at the center of Maryland’s fight against climate change,” House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said earlier this week.

In his day job, Barve, an accountant by trade, has been the chief financial officer of Environmental Management Services, Inc., a Rockville company, for 30 years.

Barve contemplated seeking higher office several times during his career, and twice eyed runs for Congress before pulling back. He eventually did make a congressional bid in 2016, but finished far out of the money in the Democratic primary. But whenever he suffered a political setback he would always take comfort that he could return to the General Assembly.

“Luckily, I love my job,” he would frequently say.

Barve endorsed Moore fairly early in the Democratic primary for governor last year and regularly touted the candidate’s environmental platform. Barve was reportedly a runner-up to be appointed Environment secretary when Moore took office, but will now be able to shape energy and environmental policy in other ways on the PSC.

Whether coincidence or not, Jones on Tuesday bestowed the Casper R. Taylor Jr. Award, named after one of her predecessors and given to a current House member for “steadfast public service,” on Barve. His colleagues gave him a long, lusty ovation, in a ceremony that felt like a farewell tribute to Barve’s long legislative career.

Barve will remain in the General Assembly through the end of the current session, which concludes on Monday. It is highly unlikely that the Senate Executive Nominations Committee will take up his nomination before Sine Die — meaning he will take office at the PSC later this spring but won’t go through the confirmation process until next year. Barve would become the second former House member to serve on the commission: Tony O’Donnell, a former House minority leader, has been on the PSC since 2016.

Barve’s departure creates a vacancy at the top of the Environment and Transportation Committee, a plum position for Jones to fill. Early speculation for the job focuses on House Majority Leader Marc Korman (D-Montgomery), who is also chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and the Environment. But there could be more movement in the House in  months ahead.

The House has already seen three new members appointed since the start of the year, and there’s another vacancy to be filled in Montgomery County’s District 39, where Del. Kirill Reznik (D) recently resigned to become assistant secretary for interdepartmental data at the Maryland Department of Human Services. The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee will forward names to Moore for Reznik’s and Barve’s replacements.

This article was originally published on and is republished with permission. Maryland Matters is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Maryland Matters maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Danielle Gaines for questions: Follow Maryland Matters on Facebook and Twitter.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply