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March 28, 2011

County Delegationís Surprise Success

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Spring is trying to squeeze its way into the weather forecast in mid-Maryland, but winter seems intent on hanging around a bit longer.


This time of year means Little League tryouts and restarting lawn mowers. Down along the Severn River, late March and early April means only one thing: the end of the General Assembly session.


There was a time when I barely noticed the opening buds and sprouting greenery; I was too focused on getting a bill passed or trading crucial votes to get something important done. Now, that work is left to others, namely, the Frederick County Delegation.


So, how have our legislators faired so far this year? It’s a truly mixed bag; good, bad, and ugly.


No one is surprised that freshman Sen. Ron Young (D., Frederick) has made a name for himself. Senator Young knows a thing or two about governing and statesmanship. The surprise comes from his ardent and vocal support of same-sex marriage, a position that placed him at seeming odds with a majority of his constituents.


Not really, but that’s certainly the claim made by those most offended at the senator’s progressive stance. Truth be told, Ron Young’s district is much more of a mixed bag, the conservative southern and western portion of the 3rd District is more than offset by the progressive City of Frederick center.


His argument, that who marries who is not a matter for politicians to decide, is rooted in his basic view of social justice. Almost a libertarian viewpoint, his vote is only really controversial when viewed through the eyes of the incumbent he defeated. Alex Mooney was the most conservative legislator in Annapolis. Mr. Young’s victory last November helped make former Senator Mooney a historical footnote.


Senator Young has had some other legislative victories, too. He must have found Senate President Mike Miller’s sweet spot, since most freshmen are seen more and heard less. It’s probably a function of how deeply Senator Miller despised Mr. Mooney that Ron Young has ascended the credibility ladder so quickly.


Senator Young is the junior senator from Frederick County, his counterpart, David Brinkley (R., Frederick/Carroll) is once again the go-to voice for sensible opposition commentary during Senate debates. Senator Brinkley oozes credibility in the General Assembly; I don’t recall anyone who didn’t like him when I was there.


He and Sen. E. J. Pipkin (R., Eastern Shore) once again rolled out their GOP alternative to the budget presented by Gov. Martin O’Malley. Chockfull of controversial cuts, the Brinkley/Pipkin plan was never going to pass. It doesn’t need to pass. Just offering a well-designed counter proposal continues to build David’s credibility as a serious statesman and policymaker.


Over in the House, old veterans Don Elliott (R., Frederick/Carroll) and Galen Clagett (D., Frederick-3A) continue to focus on their respective specialties. Galen is a member of the House leadership team, one of Speaker Mike Busch’s key lieutenants in the budget process. He knows how to get bills passed, but this year he might be hitting a bit of a dry patch. Only one of his sponsored bills looks highly likely to pass, but there’s still time. Much of his time is spent chairing an Appropriations Subcommittee, something no other member of the delegation can boast.


Delegate Elliott is the healthcare expert in the group, but his personal bills aren’t having a lot of success. His signature effort – to make it easier for businesses to spread their tax payments – is stuck in Ways and Means, so he’ll have to really push it over the next week and a half. He’s focused on trying to make sense of our healthcare delivery system, so cut him a break.


Freshman Michael Hough (R., Frederick/Washington) is batting one for five. He has a bill on swift and certain sanctions that has been embraced by law and order conservatives and ultra progressives. The strange bedfellows comment fits perfectly here. That young Mr. Hough has any bill on the verge of passage in his first session is a testament to his hard work and that of his staff.


Fellow freshman Kelly Schulz (R., Frederick-4A) has one bill that has already passed the House and is working its way through the Senate. The bill establishes a junior deer hunt, a way for young Marylanders to learn to hunt in safety while helping manage the deer population.


Okay, so maybe it’s not the most important bill to pass this year. Give her some credit though. She realized the best way to get in the groove was to find a good idea many could embrace. Delegate Schulz has done some impressive work on the House floor, too. She gave a passionate speech during the same-sex marriage debate that defined her personal objection to the idea while recognizing and respecting the opinions of others.


The surprise is freshman Del. Kathy Afzali (R., Frederick-4A). Not that she didn’t exhibit the tools to succeed, she did. No, Kathy ran as a diehard fiscal and social conservative, and she ran in opposition to the controlling culture in Annapolis. No one would have expected that she would become the first delegation member to propose an idea that would be personally and fully endorsed by Governor O’Malley.


Her bill on estate taxes for agricultural families became a signature initiative of the administration. In the corrupt culture of Annapolis, the cross-filed version of her bill was sponsored by Sen. Ron Young. His bill will probably pass and be signed. Rest assured that it was Kathy that sold this idea, whether she gets the credit or not. Also, she has a nice little bill setting quality standards for honey harvested in Maryland. That bill is also likely to pass this year. Not bad for a rookie!


The delegation wasn’t nearly as successful with the legislative package of the Frederick Board of County Commissioners. At this point in the session, only one bill, a harmless little bill allowing for wine tastings at festivals, seems sure of passing. In years past, it wasn’t unusual to have a large number of local bills signed into law. With the philosophical bent of the Blaine Young board, it appears that the General Assembly will not be a receptive venue for Frederick’s legislative wish list.


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