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2A The incumbent

September 30, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

This year's campaign hasn't been an easy one for Maryland Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington. First, the governor's redistricting map pitted him against fellow Republican Chris Shank.

When that was overturned by the courts, he was left with a race against Peter Perini Sr., who's criticized the 52-year-old Halfway resident for votes the Democratic challenger claims show McKee doesn't care about the welfare of children and the elderly, or about homeland security in Maryland.

McKee, the executive director of Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Washington County, began our interview with a point-by-point defense of the bills Perini had cited.

On HB 838 - Abuse and Neglect of Vulnerable Adults, McKee said he voted "no" because it increased the penalties for "intentional neglect" from a misdemeanor to a felony.

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"If I were taking care of my parents and I intentionally went to the kitchen to get their dinner and my father fell down the stairs, I could be charged with a felony," McKee said.

On HB 2, Expansion of the Children's Health Program, McKee said that he voted for the original program in 1998, because it provided health care for children and pregnant women with a household income of up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The expansion he voted against increased the eligibility limit to 300 percent of the poverty level, which meant that a family of four with an income topping $50,000 would have been eligible.

"I would think that a family with an income at that level would make it a priority to put some of it toward health insurance," McKee said.

On HB 1036, the Maryland Security Protection Act, McKee said this was part of a package of bills.

"I voted yes on six, no on three," he said.

On this particular one, McKee said that it would have allowed police to conduct roving wiretaps, without providing a specific location.

"Our nation was founded on certain individual rights, and this goes too far," McKee said.

So did SB 240, he said, which would have allowed the governor to designate a custodian of public records, who could have declared certain records secret and inaccessible to the public.

"I find a lot of legislators sit out votes on bills that might be controversial. That's not how I am," McKee said.

McKee also said he voted against the Thornton Commission education enhancements, because the bill provided for no funding source after 2004.

"I feel it's irresponsible to pass major pieces of legislation without knowing how you're going to pay for them," he said.

If you could accomplish only one thing in the next session, what would it be?

"I'd like to see increased funding and support for transportation initiatives," McKee said, adding that House Speaker Caspar Taylor has a plan to dedicate part of the state's sales tax revenue to such projects.

If that means raising the tax, it might have to be done, McKee said.

"If we have projects here we need, we're not in position to say 'no' to everything," he said.

On gambling, McKee said he supported slot machines at the state's race tracks, provided local areas had the ability to vote to opt out. He would not favor slots at other locations, like off-track betting parlors.

He did acknowledge that the state needs to find funds for the Thornton Commission recommendations and for other needs. He said he hoped that if Republican Robert Ehrlich is elected governor, state government spending could be redirected toward some of those areas.

McKee said he feels government's role is to help those who have genuine needs, adding that he's proud he was able to handle more than 900 constituent-service requests during his time in office.

"These types of things don't make the big headlines, but they're as important to the people involved as the big legislation," he said.

How do you feel about Perini's contention that he's more qualified than you because he's a CEO with many employees and you're a non-profit executive with only a few staffers?

"He's a walking conflict-of-interest," McKee said, adding the Perini's nursing homes are the recipients of so much state and federal aid that the challenger would have to constantly sit out votes on crucial bills.

"How much legislation is he going to recuse himself on?" he said.

"I was born and raised in this county. I listen well and I don't go down there to the state capital with my own agenda," he said.

But if he loses, so be it, McKee said.

"Whatever the good Lord and the voters decide on Nov. 5 is fine with me," he said.

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

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