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A prank and nothing more

January 21, 1999

There are lots of ways state lawmakers can get into serious trouble - using their influence for personal gain or fudging on their expense accounts. Del. Joseph Bartlett and state Sen. Alex Mooney did neither, so let's call their decision to switch name tags at a chamber of commerce reception what it was - a harmless prank.

You wouldn't know that from the reactions of their colleagues, who treated the incident like a breach of the Bosnian cease fire.

Del. Sue Hecht said that "Our business down here is too serious," adding that the tag switch reflects badly on the other members of the delegation and makes them look "unprofessional."

Del. Louise Snodgrass said that "different legislators did not see any humor in it."

Delegation chairman Bob McKee said that if the two want to accomplish anything in Annapolis, "They'll grow up quick."

State Sen. Don Munson said the reaction to the joke will be a "hard lesson" for the two.

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We could take this more seriously if we weren't aware of Maryland lawmakers' history of pranks and jokes. A favorite in the past was advising a lawmaker he or she was needed immediately at the House Speaker's rostrum, then watching the member's embarrassment as the speaker asked them why they were hanging around.

A crueler prank involved telling a lawmaker that his or her pet project had been stripped from a bill, then watching as that lawmaker either suffered from the imaginary disappointment, or worked feverishly to undo something that had never been done in the first place.

If there's any lesson in all of this, it's that apparently that veteran lawmakers don't expect the jokes and pranks to come from those who've only just arrived. In our view, the prank was neither cruel nor disrespectful of the legislature, since the only two who stood to lose were the two who willingly participated in it.

And as for what it says about the two lawmakers, we believe it shows that neither one is the sort of big-ego personality who's so impressed with himself that he'd never take a chance on being mistaken for someone else. For that alone, their prank was worthwhile.

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