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Donoghue makes own way in local delegation

November 23, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

At a recent legislative forum, Del. John P. Donoghue came out swinging against his Republican colleagues in the Maryland House of Delegates.

Donoghue, D-Washington, criticized them for voting against the state budget and warned that their GOP governor could hurt the Hagers-town Education Center with further cuts to the University System of Maryland budget.

Republicans who make up the rest of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly defended Gov. Robert Ehrlich's budget cuts.

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They said they voted against the budget because it was balanced with tax increases that were ultimately vetoed by Ehrlich.

By going on the offensive, Donoghue showed that he's not going to bow down to pressure to conform to the politically conservative majority in the Delegation.

"He's decided he's been cornered and he's going to fight," said D. Bruce Poole, a Democrat and former state delegate. "Unfortunately, the politics of the Washington County Delegation are the politics of Annapolis. It's very partisan."

Donoghue, who has built his reputation in Annapolis by working on health care issues, said he's simply voicing his opinion.

"In my view, it's a matter of being very up front. It's calling the shots as I see them," Donoghue said.

But Republicans, who are going to target Donoghue for defeat in 2006, said the 13-year lawmaker is treading on dangerous territory by clashing with a governor and a political party that's very popular in Washington County.

Ehrlich was elected by a 69 percent majority in Washington County.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, who worked as a legislative aide for the Delegation before ousting Poole in 1998, said he has a lot of respect for Donoghue.

But Shank, R-Washington, thinks Donoghue could be taking a political risk by allying himself with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.

Busch gave Donoghue a senior leadership position this year.

"I think John's got to figure it out for himself, what kind of delegate he wants to be. Does he want to work with the administration or does he want to be a Mike Busch obstructionist?" Shank said.

Many rural Democrats, including Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, have aligned themselves with Ehrlich by supporting his slots initiative and voting against new taxes.

Donoghue voted for a bill that would have taxed HMOs at the same 2-percent rate that other insurance companies are taxed. It also would raised taxes on businesses and closed a loophole that some companies use to avoid paying Maryland taxes.

Despite that vote, Donoghue has voted with conservatives on many issues this year.

He voted against a bill to reduce criminal penalties for those who use marijuana for medical reasons.

He voted for charter schools and he voted against a task force studying whether to give driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

Donoghue's district, which roughly follows the Hagerstown city boundaries, is the only legislative district with a Democratic majority in Washington County.

There are 8,549 registered Democrats and 7,172 registered Republicans in Donoghue's district, 2C, according to the Washington County Election Board.

Countywide, Republicans outnumber Democrats by 4,000 voters, election board records show.

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