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Munson keeps focus on his constituents

January 10, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

When Maryland Sen. Donald F. Munson first arrived in Annapolis, it was a lonely town for the GOP.

He was one of 23 Republicans in the 188-member General Assembly.

Back home in Washington County, the situation was not much different. There were three Republicans in the seven-member county delegation and Democrats outnumbered Republicans by nearly 7,000 voters.

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As Munson begins his 25th year in the state capital this week, much has changed in Washington County and throughout the state.

Although Democrats still dominate both houses of the legislature, the number of GOP lawmakers has doubled. In Washington County, Republicans now hold a 6-2 majority in the legislative delegation and a slight edge in party registration.

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Along the way, Munson has cemented his status as Washington County's most popular politician and has offered his services to would-be Republican officeholders. Candidates of both parties have sought his advice and copied his style.

"I would clearly say he's the pathfinder for Republicans. Like pioneers in explorer times, Don has led the way for us," said Christopher B. Shank, who defeated a three-term Democratic delegate last November by knocking on thousands of doors in his sprawling southern Washington County District.

Shank said he was helped during the campaign simply by Munson's presence in his campaign brochures.

When he decided to challenge Democrat D. Bruce Poole, Shank said he methodically plotted a Munson-like campaign. He even printed campaign fliers that included cooking recipes on the back - a technique Munson has used for two decades.

"Clearly, Don's campaign style was not something that invented itself," he said. "It works. The stuff works."

When Del. Robert A. McKee ran a successful campaign in District 2A four years ago, Munson escorted him to about 6,500 homes.

An underdog in that race against former County Commissioner Richard E. Roulette, McKee emerged victorious. Now the chairman of the delegation, McKee said Munson deserves a share of the credit in both his own election and the growth of the GOP in Washington County.

"Don has taken a more active role in party politics in recent years," he said. "The Reagan '80s didn't hurt us either."

For his part, Munson said he has enjoyed watching the party's gains.

"It's interesting and it's exciting to see," he said. "It's more fun to be in the majority than the minority. I'd like to see a Republican governor one of these days before I'm done."

Serving the constituents

After six terms in the General Assembly, including two in the Senate, Munson counts several legislative initiatives as proud accomplishments.

He is the father of the state's lemon law, which protects consumers who have bought defective vehicles.

Munson also helped write changes to the law that gave Citibank banking privileges in Maryland. Those changes, which allowed a massive credit card processing center to open in the mid-1980s, provided jobs for hundreds of county residents.

But as a member of the minority party, Munson's legislative record is not particularly hefty. And he makes no secret of the fact that he is much more interested in helping constituents fight government bureaucracy than he is in dreaming up new laws.

"When you're elected to office, your constituents expect and deserve a certain kind of representation," he said.

By his own estimation, Munson has handled 65,000 constituent problems since he was first elected.

Munson recalled one case in 1976. A local minister's son was robbed and killed on a backpacking trip in Nepal. The man could not get justice for his son or retrieve his personal belongings.

So he called Munson, his state delegate.

At the time, Munson was an uncommitted delegate to the Republican National Convention. When President Gerald Ford asked Munson if there was anything Ford could do, Munson asked for a favor.

A presidential call to the king of Nepal resulted in the arrest of the assailant and a return of the personal belongings, Munson said.

"It was a case of being in the right place at the right time," he said.

Activists in both parties credit Munson with tireless efforts on behalf of county residents.

"He just doesn't stop until he gets a satisfactory answer," said Richard G. Everhart, a member of the county Republican Central Committee. "He's unbelievable."

Although he is best known for constituent service, Munson insists that he has built a legislative record of accomplishment as well.

Munson's Democratic opponents haven't necessarily agreed.

Democrat Patricia K. Cushwa, who lost a 1990 Senate race to Munson, said during the campaign that she could accomplish more in six months as an interim senator than Munson did in 16 years as a delegate.

But Munson has added to his legislative accomplishments since he was appointed to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and Cushwa says it wouldn't be a credible campaign theme now.

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