General Assembly Journal 2006 - Part 2
It seems like it was just yesterday when I wrote my first Journal column in 2003. I was still a starry-eyed freshman delegate, awed by the people, the process, and the power.
Today, a mere three years later, I'm hardened by the endless hours of pointless argument over political rhetoric. I'm also battle-scared by floor fights that focus more on partisanship than policy.
This week marks the final session of my freshman term. The actual opening session is proscribed in the Maryland Constitution, beginning at 12:00 P. M. on the second Wednesday in January.
The week started with a trip to Annapolis on Monday to hook up computers, printers, and files. The work of constituent services shifts from the district office to Annapolis as of Wednesday.
The House office building is undergoing substantial renovation right now. Last week's journal mentioned the renovations, but didn't express sufficiently the terrible disruption in workflow and order.
Del. Patrick Hogan and I share a suite, and this past summer we had a delegate from the Eastern Shore, Page Elmore, sharing our three-office suite. He had found a home in the office vacated by Del. Galen Clagett after his move to the rarified air of the fourth floor, home of the Democrat Party leadership.
Delegate Elmore moved out last Tuesday, so Patrick and I were able to return things to normal, or at least as normal as things can ever be in Annapolis. We're still not sure what will happen in the empty office, we're hoping we can use it for our staff support.
Last year I described the tortuous process of deciding how the minority would react to the election of the Speaker of the House. This occurs very early in the process on opening day, and features a perfunctory nomination, seconding speech, and motion to close nominations occurring in a carefully scripted political ballet.
Last year, after hours of debate, the GOP reluctantly settled on the concept of asking for a "roll call" vote for Speaker and then not casting any vote.
That seemed to mollify the more ardent caucus members who wanted to make a statement with their vote. This year, the caucus wanted to take a very different approach. Instead of a passive lack of a positive or negative reaction to Speaker Michael Busch (D., Anne Arundel), the majority of the caucus wanted to take a much more aggressive stand.
This more confrontational approach brought several forces into play. The members who resented Speaker Busch's cutting off debate, ignoring established parliamentary rules, and shutting off microphones indicated that they would insist on a "no" vote.
Members of the Anne Arundel County delegation were concerned that Delegate Busch, as a sitting Anne Arundel delegate, represented the first time since the late 1700's that a member from their county held the speakership.
Finally, there were a few GOP members who didn't want to rock the boat, hoping to curry favor for their own bills by ignoring the tyrannical, heavy-handed leadership style of Speaker Busch. They intended to vote in favor of Delegate Busch's election as Speaker, feeling that their constituents didn't really care one way or the other.
The Minority Whip, Del. Tony O'Donnell (R., Calvert), tried to make the point that whatever action we took, it would be stronger and more defining if all 43 GOP members did the same thing.
Tony was absolutely right. Unfortunately, in a legislative body, individual politicians are not motivated by a sense of teamwork. They are motivated by one overriding concern: re-election.
During the long and tedious debate, a phenomenon became evident. Almost the whole caucus seemed to think that we should vote against Speaker Busch or vote for a Speaker candidate of our choosing.
The arithmetic of the House makes clear that any candidate supported by the Minority cannot possibly win election. The rules of the House clearly indicate that any member of the House can offer a nomination for anyone they choose.
As a demonstration of goodwill, I offered a motion to have the GOP leadership approach the Speaker and explain that the caucus was interested not in voting against Speaker Busch, but would cast a favorable vote for our candidate.
That motion passed on an almost unanimous vote. Minority Leader George Edwards (R., Garrett) and Whip O'Donnell met with Speaker Busch to discuss the caucus position.
In that meeting, described by the attendees as a courteous and professional exchange, the GOP leadership described our plan to the Speaker. Speaker Busch considered the request, and indicated that he'd get back to the leadership team.
The next morning, the Democrat leadership team (minus the Speaker) showed up in the Minority leadership office. The message was that "they" would not permit the Republicans to make a floor nomination.
When presented with this, the caucus blew a gasket. After the calls for the Speaker's head passed, the group settled on an approach. Since the majority would "allow" us to ask for a roll call, we would do that. Then the GOP members would be free to vote for, against, or simply not vote at all for Speaker Busch's nomination.
In the end, 33 of the 43 Republicans members chose to vote against Speaker Busch. In my own case, my red vote was not so much against Mike Busch as it was against the dominance of a majority so repressive as to flaunt the established rules to retain their grip on institutional power.
This one instance is maybe the clearest definition of what is fundamentally wrong with politics in Maryland. When people ask me why I occasionally deviate from my moderate approach to politics to more strident partisanship, it's because the Democrats in Maryland are so arrogant and disrespectful of the minority.
I was sent to Annapolis by the voters of District 3B to vote on their behalf. By the nature of my party affiliation, those voters chose a Republican representative. It isn't like they didn't have a choice, they did, and they exercised that choice.
By exerting such a tyrannical influence over the House Chamber, Speaker Busch is denying the residents of Maryland who vote for a Republican their right to have their voices heard in Annapolis. His argument is that allowing the minority to nominate their own choice for Speaker would set an unacceptable precedent ignores the established rules of the House.
The lone Democrat delegate from Frederick County dismissed our attempt to be heard as a stunt that demeans the institution. In my opinion, ignoring the rules of the House of Delegates and the right of any member to make a nomination from the floor demeans the institution far more than a legitimate attempt to work within those same rules.
This institutional arrogance and repression of the rights of the minority have to end in this state. The Maryland General Assembly will continue to shut out the voters of Southern Maryland, Western Maryland, and any county that sends Republican legislators to Annapolis.