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December 26, 2006

The Leadership Battle - Part One

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The Maryland State House of Delegates and Senate are going through the steps to organize themselves for the upcoming General Assembly Session.

On the Senate side, the battle for leadership was actually fought right here in Frederick County. Sen. David Brinkley (Dist. 4) placed his name before his colleagues for the position of minority leader, competing against Sen. Andrew Harris (R., Baltimore Co.).

The last time Frederick had an incumbent state legislator with so much power was when Sen. Jack Derr served in the same position, over eight years ago. Senator Derr lost his primary election to Sen. Alex X. Mooney. In a true case of déjà vu; Senator Mooney found himself in a position to deny Senator Brinkley his shot at a leadership position.

In the interest of full disclosure, David Brinkley is a true friend, and I have no doubt that he would be an outstanding minority leader. That brings up an interesting point, this whole discussion of friends.

Alex says he can't vote for David, and cites his close friendship with Senator Harris as one of the primary reasons. Anyone who knows Alex knows that his claim of friendship is true. He and Andy are close, and they share a strong, maybe even an ultra-conservative ideology.

The first round of voting ended up in a 7-7 tie in the Senate GOP Caucus. There were several votes taken, but no one yielded their position. Two of the votes, Sen. Rich Colburn and Alex, were cast via proxy, as both were unable to attend the actual voting session.

The next round of voting took place on December 18. Unconfirmed rumors reported that the first round of votes ended in a 7-7 tie again, and then both Senators Brinkley and Harris "released" their supporters to vote for whomever they choose, without regard to previous commitments.

As a result, Senator David Brinkley was elected the Senate's minority leader by a very narrow margin (rumored to be the narrowest of margins). He will now be the leading policy voice for the opposition party in the Maryland State Senate. He moves to the very front of that historic chamber, sitting directly in front of the president's rostrum, home to legendary Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller (Prince George's/Calvert), the longest serving state Senate president in the United States.

In addition to the voice of the minority in the Senate, David will be one of the leading voices for the Republican Party throughout Maryland. For the last four years, with a Republican sitting in the governor's office, Republican legislators had the job of helping the Ehrlich Administration succeed.

Now, with the parties switched, minority legislators are also responsible for the party building work necessary to get back to power. David Brinkley will be a statewide leader in that battle, and his profile will directly benefit Frederick County.

Working beside Minority Leader Brinkley will be Minority Whip Alan Kittleman, who represents Howard and Carroll County. Senator Kittleman is a legacy; his father, the late Sen. Bob Kittleman, was one of the most beloved senators of the modern area.

Bob Kittleman was a legend, a conservative-leaning moderate who was a lifetime member of the Howard County NAACP. Senator Kittleman was a behind-the scenes type guy, but he spoke with authority and commanded respect from both sides of the aisle.

His son Alan possesses those same characteristics. He was first appointed to replace his father, but the voters recently validated that appointment when Alan won an easy November victory.

Expect David Brinkley and Alan Kittleman to make a phenomenal leadership team. You can count on them to add voice to the opposition on the major fiscal and social issues, but they'll be just as quick to forge partnerships when the time is right and ideologies allow compromise.

President Miller likely will work to forge a grudging partnership with the new minority leader, part of that mutually beneficial compromise so essential to smooth legislative branch operation. Senator Brinkley will need some support from the president, and no doubt the president will need Senator Brinkley and his 14 votes.

The last time I wrote about a House Republican Caucus leadership fight, I was entering my second year in the legislature. The team that emerged victorious in that struggle, Minority Leader George Edwards (R., Alleghany) and Minority Whip Tony O'Donnell (R., Southern MD) survived the final three years of the last term.

By all accounts, George and Tony made the perfect team. George was loved, a moderate-to-conservative consensus builder. Tony, on the other hand, was the loud, forceful, quick-with-a quote partisan enforcer.

In next week's column, we'll examine the battle to replace the House minority leadership team. Expect a steel cage death match, take-no-prisoners confrontation, anything less would be a disappointment.

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