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January 26, 2004

General Assembly Journal - Part Three

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

January 20, 2004

So, one week down, two months and three more weeks left. So what has your State legislature accomplished so far? Well, not much!

Today the House of Delegates followed the Senate’s lead and overturned those vetoes I wrote about last week. To reiterate a point, none of these three bills is earth shattering. None of them meet the constitutional test of significance that should measure the worthiness of overriding the will of the Chief Executive.

Passionate speeches made on the floor today by the House leadership are only intended to garner headlines in the metro DC area newspapers. The irrefutable facts are that these were the bills that the leadership felt they could line up the necessary votes without too much trouble. One surprise was that they had to “special order,” or continue for a few days, the action on two of these bills while they pressured their members to vote the way they wanted them to.

Speaker of the House Mike Busch (D., Anne Arundel) was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying that the Republican Caucus in the House was the “caucus that couldn’t,” citing differences between most Republicans regarding a plan to increase taxes. Delegate Busch would have you believe that since it was the Governor’s budget (although it stopped being his budget when the Democrats tacked on the HMO Premium Tax), the Republican Caucus should have voted for it.

Speaker Busch has been a successful coach at the high school level in Anne Arundel County. One rule I was taught early in my amateur sports endeavors was that you never gave the opposing team a quote to hang on their locker room wall.

The “caucus that couldn’t” comment will come back to haunt the Speaker and the majority in the House and Senate. Nothing rallies the troops more than a full frontal assault from the enemy.

Normally, we Republicans can be a stubborn and frustrating bunch. We have strong feelings, we like to argue, and many of us assume we’re right (even when we’re not). If Speaker Busch had left well enough alone, it’s possible that we might not have been able to agree on things like veto overrides.

As it was, all forty-three Republican members of the House of Delegates stood together to vote no on the veto overrides. Like I told you last week, even if all of us vote in opposition, the Democrats hold a 2-1 majority, so they succeeded in their quest to assert Chamber dominance.

OK, enough partisanship. My old friend Eric Percy is wishing I'd shut up about this stuff, so Eric, the rest of this column is for you.

So how does your humble legislator deal with moving to Annapolis for ninety days? Last Monday, I moved into my room at the Residence Inn on Admiral Cochran Drive. Our hotel stay is paid for through the General Assembly budget. Some legislators rent homes or condos, many stay in hotels. The major difference is one of personal preference, since the costs are comparable.

I stayed at the Sheraton last year, a very nice hotel. This year, I opted for an in-room kitchen, because I need to be able to better control my food intake. I did the full circuit of receptions parties, and dinners. I needed to see and be seen, to meet the movers and shakers. Well, been there and done that!

This year, it's all about the work. I'll forgo dinners and parties to focus on the details, the stuff that actually interests me. The nice thing about the Residence Inn is that Amy, the love of my life, can come down here during the week, and we can have a nice, quiet dinner away from the hustle and bustle. I need to remember that while being a delegate is heady stuff, my most important jobs are hubby and dad.

Last Wednesday, Winnie, my right hand and the person you'll talk to if you call the Annapolis office, left me a message that the lieutenant governor's office had called, and that he wanted to meet with me. OK, I tried to act cool, but couldn't pull it off.

I ran over to the State House, so fast, in fact, that I had to wait for a few minutes before he could see me. I had assumed that this would be a short social visit, a "welcome back" kind of thing.

Well, did I have that wrong! Lt. Gov. Michael Steele asked to meet with me to ask me to work with his deputy chief of staff to draft some bills on his behalf. As one of my senior House colleagues said, when the lieutenant governor asks for your help, you don't ask why, you just do it!

The bills he wants me to sponsor deal with the Minority Business Enterprise program, something that matters deeply to Mr. Steele. This fits in nicely with the area that I'm becoming recognized for, which is procurement and purchasing practices.

I have a lot of work to do on draft bills. The deadline for submitting bills is the second week of February, and I have two bills on issues that constituents and friends asked for, several (as many as 12) on state procurement reform, and now a couple from the lieutenant governor.

This is in addition to my Floor work as caucus parliamentarian and chairman of the Caucus Rules Committee. I'm relearning a rule I learned as a county commissioner, which is that folks love rules when the decision is favorable, but hate them when the rule goes against them.

A parliamentarian has to rise above partisan interests, acknowledging the fact that rules and procedures are ALWAYS bigger than political parties. Parliamentary procedure is the mechanical structure that holds the House together, and I am a student of these mechanics.

Lest you think that I might turn into a party "hack," last week I took the lead to brief the Republicans in the House on some rule changes proposed by the House Clerk's office. Some suspected that Speaker Busch was behind these changes, so there was a natural reticence toward the changes.

I did some research with the House Journal Clerk, a wonderful lady named Dee Orr. She is one of the best and brightest I've met down here, along with Chief Clerk Mary Monahan. Dee and I spent some time reviewing the changes, and Dee sat with me as I briefed the Caucus.

In the end, the Republicans accepted the changes without objection, and we avoided a petty fight that we would have lost anyway.

So, tomorrow I'll meet with bill drafting to go over some final changes and some of the new ideas. Then the bills will be dropped, the bills will be referred to committees, and the bill hearings will be scheduled.

Looks like your humble correspondent will be very busy this year.

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