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Advertise on the Tentacle

February 14, 2005

General Assembly Journal 2005 Part 5

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Last Wednesday was the deadline for filing a bill without it being referred to the House Rules Committee. Why does that matter? Most of the bills automatically referred to Rules never make it out of that committee. The presumption is that the delegate had plenty of time to get the bill filed before the deadline, so the standard of review is set very high.

My bills all started as an idea last year. Some were killed in committee back then, and are stronger this year having gone through that process. Some of my bills resulted from discussions with constituents, and several months of research have resulted in a draft bill.

Delegates are running around like crazy trying to obtain co-sponsorship signatures from other delegates. Everywhere you go, you see delegates and staff clutching "bluebacks," the familiar blue-colored folders containing draft bills.

Delegates have their rap down pat, and can reel off arcane legal detail to rival Clarence Darrow. Based on my informal survey, every draft bill is the best bill ever to be conceived, and every one of them will make Maryland better, stronger, and safer.

Believe that and I'll sell you your own piece of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The fact is that most bills are written to mollify a political constituency, to fix a problem that doesn't really exist, or to make a delegate look good for doing something, regardless of the value.

The numbers tell the story. Each year, we see somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 bills drafted and introduced in the House of Delegates. Of that, less than 500 are signed into law.

If all of those draft bills were as important as individual delegates try to pitch, more would make it through the process. The committee structure does exactly what it's supposed to do, which is to weed out the stuff that just doesn't add value.

None of this applies to my bills, though. They are REALLY important, and we REALLY need them enacted in law!

* * * * * * * * * *

Talking about bills that don't add value. How about a slew of partisan, politically motivated legislation that is designed to restrict the power of Maryland's first Republican governor in over 35 years?

The House and Senate leadership have embarked on focused, targeted effort to restrict the constitutional powers of the executive. Democrat legislators were aggressive defenders when the Minority Caucus attempted to do the very same things when Parris Glendening was governor. Republicans now find themselves in the Twilight Zone-like position of arguing passionately for maintaining the powers and courtesies of the governor's office they themselves sought to limit.

Let's talk specifics. How about Del. Herman Taylor's (D., Montgomery) bill to make the state insurance commissioner an elected position? Or maybe Del. Galen Clagett's (D., Frederick) bill to restrict the right of the governor to hire/fire state employees. Del. Peter Franchot (D., Montgomery), this Governor's biggest antagonist, has a series of bills in to force the legislature to approve land sales, to subject bureaucratic actions of the governor and administration to the will of the legislature.

Mr. Taylor and Mr. Clagett are freshmen, so they'll argue that they weren't here before and are not subject to the words of their Democrat colleagues who passionately protected the governor's power from a full frontal assault by radical Republicans.

Delegate Clagett was quoted in a major daily paper likening the actions of the administration on state employee terminations to a Communist "cell." My Frederick County colleague is a pretty smart guy. He has shown through his political history an uncanny ability to read tealeaves and position himself to ride the tide of public opinion.

His rhetoric on this one is irresponsible, at least in my limited view of the world. As he climbs the ladder of leadership within the House Democratic Party, the level of his rhetoric and partisanship are increasing proportionally.

He's probably already determined that he's safe to demonize Governor Robert Ehrlich in his district. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Frederick City, so he can toss out red meat attack press releases without fear of immediate consequences.

My take on this flurry of legislation designed to limit the governor's authority is that it is merely political posturing. Hard to believe that I'd think that, huh? Sure, I'm a "homer," and I support Governor Ehrlich. You'd assume that I would be opposed to these partisan attempts to restrict his power.

What you don't know is that I didn't support Republicans under former Governor Glendening when they tried to do this same thing during his term of office. I don't think legislators should be spending time and energy on unnecessary, partisan witch-hunts that are more about garnering media attention than serving the interests of five million Maryland residents.

* * * * * * * * * *

Annapolis is embroiled in a scandal, at least according to The (Baltimore) Sun and The Washington Post. An Ehrlich administration appointee in the Maryland Insurance Administration, Joe Steffen, used his frequent postings on a political website to forward rumors that Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley had been involved in an extra-marital affair.

Mayor O'Malley has consistently denied these rumors, and he and Mrs. O'Malley, a Baltimore City District Court judge, held an emotional press conference last week to finally put these allegations to rest.

Mr. Steffen appears to be an old time political operative, one who works best behind the scenes, silently working his sources to dig up or plant some dirt to impact an unsuspecting political opponent.

We suffered through this stuff in the early 70's. Donald Segretti, a punk in a suit, made history by developing a sophisticated undercover political operation whose goal was to diminish the value of any "enemy" of President Richard M. Nixon.

Now I have no idea whether Mayor O'Malley has ever had integrity or ethical issues. I also have no idea whether this Governor or his intimates were aware of Mr. Steffen's activities.

What I do know is that Mayor O'Malley and his family do not deserve to have to deal with this stuff. His kids, teenager down to youngsters, shouldn't have to face peer scrutiny motivated by a stranger with a keyboard and Internet access.

I also know that there is no real downside to an apology from the Ehrlich administration. Some politically savvy types will say that an apology might impute prior knowledge, so it's better to say nothing.

Here's what I would do. First, I'd order an immediate, independent investigation. I'd hire a former Democrat public official (maybe former House Speaker Cas Taylor) to lead the inquiry. I'd seal Mr. Steffen's office, files, and computer.

Next, I'd issue an apology worded something like this: I am deeply sorry that Mr. O'Malley, his wife, and children have had to deal with this issue. I did not know about it in advance, but as soon as I found out, we sought and received the resignation of the guilty party. No one should have to deal with rumors and innuendo, and I will not tolerate this type of conduct.

Anything less in the form of a response will allow this story to "grow legs." When a political scandal grows legs, it can keep running until an election cycle. Governor Ehrlich has built an incredible record of success in running Maryland, while Mayor O'Malley will have trouble justifying his record of achievement in Baltimore.

It would be truly unfortunate for this scandal story to serve as part of the backdrop in 2006. No one benefits if this keeps up except the news media!

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