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Delegate Hecht speaks out against 'Senator Zero'

July 14, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

If Alex Mooney hadn't defeated Jack Derr for the District 3 Maryland Senate seat that straddles Frederick and Washington counties, Del. Sue Hecht said she'd never have run for it.

Though Derr was a Republican in a legislature dominated by Democrats, Hecht said that "in his quiet way, he was able to work both sides" and get things done.

In an interview this week, the Democratic challenger said that since Mooney's election, "none of us have anyone in the Senate we can work with in Frederick County."

They aren't the only ones. Until this session, when Mooney made some moves toward cooperation, he seemed to go out of his way to be a thorn in the leadership's side.

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He made the futile gesture of voting against Thomas V. "Mike" Miller's re-election as Senate president and worked against the gay rights bill sought by Gov. Parris Glendening, whose late brother was gay.

The low point came in the 2001 session when Mooney, who was trying to draft amendments to the gay rights bill, missed the Senate hearing on some bond bills to benefit Frederick County charities. The county's Red Cross chapter, Hospice and Weinberg Center for the Arts got a total of $450,000, about $900,000 less than the delegation had sought.

Hecht said then that Mooney and Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll/Frederick are a "weight around my neck."

Hecht told me earlier this year that she was determined to be rid of Mooney one way or another, either by besting him at the polls, or being defeated by him.

"I cannot work with Senator Mooney. Tell me one thing he has done. He brings nothing to the table," Hecht said.

"He is Senator Zero. All you have to do is look at his record," Hecht said.

Doesn't calling him that violate the campaign "code of conduct" you signed recently?

"The truth is a defense," Hecht said, adding that the proof is available at HechtYesForSenate.com.

Asked to cite cases of Mooney's alleged obstructionism, Hecht said that when Frederick County put together a proposal to raise money for tourism and economic development by adding a hotel room tax, much work went into crafting a bill everyone could live with.

"We had an exemption for bed- and-breakfasts and for people staying for more than 30 days," she said.

But when the two senators realized that they could take advantage of the "local preference" policy in the Senate, they did so and killed the bill.

"You cannot get things done by saying no every time," Hecht said, noting that Mooney had voted against every operating budget but one during his term. Had his position prevailed, Hecht said, taxpayers wouldn't have gotten the last 2 percent of a state income-tax cut phaseout.

Hecht said good leadership is a must because getting through the next two or three state budgets will be difficult, not to mention dealing with health-care issues and funding the education improvements recommended by the Thornton Commission.

Would you favor legalizing slot machines to help pay for some of those items?

"I'm open to the discussion," she said, adding that she would want to see the slots restricted to a few locations, like the state's race tracks. But she noted that the state has long-term needs in health care and transportation as well as education.

Although health care will ultimately be the federal government's job, Hecht said that the state can do some things now, like easing the costs of prescription drugs for the elderly.

"We've done a lot already in Maryland," Hecht said, adding that the state has provide health care for children and the families of the working poor.

Both Frederick and Washington counties have economic-development needs as well, Hecht said, which she may be in a position to help along. With her experience on the House Appropriations Committee, she said, a seat on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee isn't out of the question.

With such clout, she said, she might be able to assist the region with things like mass transit and affordable housing, to unclog Interstate 70 and keep the sons and daughters of local people from being priced out of the housing market.

Hecht said that to be a serious contender, she hopes to raise $200,000, because she believes Mooney's war chest will contain half a million dollars before it's over. She's working to overcome his cash advantage by going door to door and making numerous public appearances.

I spoke to Hecht first because her campaign was the first to call. As soon as possible, I'll seek out Mooney for his take on the campaign.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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