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McKee, Shank finally show some spunk - in defending their own jobs

March 18, 2002

McKee, Shank finally show some spunk - in defending their own jobs

The race between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Nos. 114 and 115 in the Maryland House of Delegates, got hot and personal last week, and although the contest has all the gravitas of two toddlers fighting over a lollipop, it may be of some amusement to see what has Dels. Bob McKee and Chris Shank hissing at each other like snakes.

Wasn't it just a month ago that the two were deeply offended at any hint of discord between them? That they were the "polite" delegation, and the race for 2B would be decent and honorable? Well, it was an interesting thought.

As you may remember, Republicans Shank and McKee were tossed into the same district by naughty Democrats, meaning they will have to face each other in this year's primary. To their credit, neither moved into a new, unoccupied district in which they both could have stood a good chance of re-election.

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With all the honor of two Southern gentlemen selecting their pearl-handled dueling pistols, they agreed to a fair fight and began pacing off ground in anticipation of a clean and above-board contest once the regular legislative session ended in April.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, all this peacefulness was shattered when Shank whirled and fired early while McKee's back was still turned. Not content to wait session's end and apparently having nothing to do in the matter of making law, Shank sent out a sizable batch of campaign literature to McKee's constituents.

Said McKee, "I do declaya suh, that is outside the bounds of spawtsmanship."

No, actually he said "Oh you brute you brute you brute you brute."

Whoops, no, that wasn't it either. It was really: "Either he has a poor memory or his word's not good as to when the campaign starts. I'm very disappointed."

Shank obviously forgot Rule 1 of Club Annapolis: It's OK to lie to your constituents, but you never, never lie to a fellow lawmaker.

Cornered, Shank (happily for us) took the offensive with these weighty words which conjure memories of Lincoln:

"He's the one making petty remarks. I find that to be petty, insulting and violating the so-called spirit that we're not going to campaign."

Um. I'm a little unclear. Shank mails out a campaign piece thinly disguised as a "survey" paid for out of his campaign funds - and then has the moxie of accusing McKee of campaigning? Earth to Chris: This is not the way to go about presenting yourself as a serious elected official.

Not that he has real far to fall in that department. His most recent piece of legislation - some weighty issue dealing, no kidding, with town parking meters - failed after the City of Hagerstown itself testified against it. That led Shank to grumble that "local governments have far too much influence down here." Well, more influence than him, maybe.

Even Shank's own committee members seemed to be teasing him. Del. Joanne Benson ribbed Shank for trying to inflict an "unfunded mandate" on local government - knowing, I'm sure, that Shank is among the first to squeal when the federal government tries to tinker with state finances. Shank apparently sees no problem though, with the state government messing with local-government finances. Say this about Shank, he is unencumbered by the shackles of logic and consistency.

Adding insult, Del. John Wood noted to Shank "Even your own town is opposed to it." Ah me, another embarrassing day for the Washington County delegation. It has been a bitter winter for Shank, whose other big piece of legislation - something about allowing dog houses on farms - was also killed in committee.

McKee by contrast has been doing - well, that's a good question, what has he been doing? Except for his spats with Shank, we hear nary a peep. Perhaps he's witnessed Shank's foibles and determined that discretion (and quiet) is the better part of valor.

In all seriousness, if these two would be half as passionate about local issues as they are about their own re-election and who broke what promise and about who is slighting whom, we might have something. As it stands now, we are getting no horsepower out of the tandem.

They're good guys. They listen and nod sympathetically; they'd be fine town councilmen, dealing with small problems like potholes, parking meters and kennels. But it's becoming increasingly clear that a local council or zoning appeals board is about where they would Peter principle-out.

It's a little late in the session to hope that the delegates will begin working for the people of Washington County instead of their own self-preservation. About the only cause for optimism is that one will be out of state government next year.

But the lesson is that if either had spent the past couple years building any sort of track record in Annapolis, voters wouldn't be faced with the distasteful job of choosing a candidate based on who can whine about the other the loudest.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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