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Republican senators have different styles

April 05, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's two representatives in the Maryland Senate are both Republicans, but so far this legislative session they have shown very different ways of displaying their conservatism.

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Sen. Donald F. Munson, in his 25th year as a state legislator, has continued his traditional behind-the-scenes approach with a heavy focus on how state laws will affect Washington County and other rural areas.

Freshman Sen. Alex X. Mooney has taken a broader outlook on the issues, even waging a one-man campaign against a statewide gay rights bill.

Some say age accounts for their different styles. Munson is 61. Mooney, at 27, is the youngest of the 47 state senators.

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Others say the two are separated more by the length of political experience.

When asked how they view their role as senators, both answer that their first priority is representing the people in their districts. In Munson's case, that's most of Washington County. Mooney's district includes areas north and east of Hagerstown and most of Frederick County, Md.

But when they elaborate on the question, different attitudes emerge.

Munson's answer reflects a reputation built on constituent service.

"I have a responsibility, I feel, to sponsor legislation which they bring to my attention. I don't sponsor legislation unless they come to me and ask me," he said.

It's also important for him to be accessible, he said.

"When I was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1974, I made one promise. I'll do the job full-time," he said.

Mooney said he has a responsibility to "vote against more government and defend traditional values."

His passion about values became clear last week, when he hired a public relations firm to distribute an editorial to media outlets statewide about Gov. Parris Glendening's proposed gay rights bill.

The bill would protect people from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.

Mooney said he opposes it on the basis that it grants homosexuals special legal rights.

"This is a radical bill. A cross-dresser could force his way into a local Washington County restaurant," he said.

The statewide editorial, Mooney said, was "a perfect opportunity to stand up for the beliefs that I campaigned on and I hold."

It's an approach that people who know Munson could not imagine him taking.

"Alex is certainly more aggressive than most senators. Alex promised to be a fighter in Annapolis," said Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, R-Howard/Prince George's.

On the other hand, Republicans look to Munson as a model for constituent service, Madden said.

"He's the most conscientious legislator in Annapolis when it comes to taking care of his constituents. He's a voice for the little people," he said.

Their different styles became apparent during the debate about Glendening's operating budget.

Both Mooney and Munson are fiscal conservatives who say they're in favor of lower taxes and smaller state budgets.

Munson, as a member of the Spending Affordability Committee, attempted to hold the line on spending by voting against a 5.9-percent increase in the state budget.

When he was outvoted, he went to work on the details of the budget as a member of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee.

"You have to work within the system provided you. I've done my best to cut the budget," he said.

When the full Senate voted on the budget, Mooney was one of five senators voting in opposition.

"I'm not going to vote for liberal tax-and-spend budgets," Mooney said.

Munson said Glendening has kept a close eye on who votes against his budget. In previous years the county delegation's "yes" votes on the budget have helped bring more school construction money to Washington County, he said.

In his early years in the legislature, Munson said he voted against the budget more often than not.

"When I first came down here I thought my role in life was to vote no. It didn't take me long to learn if you're going to be effective in this arena and for your district you need to vote yes sometimes," Munson said.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, said both styles are effective.

"(Munson) probably does his best work behind the scenes. Alex is an individual of extreme conviction and the principles he holds close to his heart are very important to him," Bartlett said.

Munson said he is too consumed with constituent service to take a prominent role in most statewide issues.

When legislation comes before him on the Budget and Taxation Committee, he often asks how it will affect Hagerstown.

"My role is to look out for the rural areas of the state," he said.

On Tuesday, his committee heard testimony on a bill to encourage state employees to work from home or at one of a dozen National Guard Armories statewide.

Munson wanted to know whether it would hurt the Hagerstown Telework Center (it won't) and whether the Hagerstown Armory would be wired for computers under the proposal (no).

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