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The delegation is getting cranky? It's about time

November 30, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

The 2004 legislative session is just over a month away, but already it's getting ugly in the Washington County delegation. After they came to blows over redistricting, Dels. Chris Shank and Bob McKee had a period of coolness between them.

Del. LeRoy Myers, for better or worse, didn't show the proper respect for his senior Republicans when he entered the House of Delegates last session, and now he's in the local doghouse. There's even speculation that it was a local lawmaker who leaked Myer's derogatory comments about Washington County Schools Superintendent Betty Morgan to the Montgomery Gazette, causing Myers significant embarrassment and forcing a public apology.

Most recently, Dels. John Donoghue, the delegation's sole Democrat and Shank have been warring it up in the press and Republicans are openly targeting Donoghue for defeat in the next election.

About all this ill will and rancor, I can only say one word:

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Finally.

Since the days of lawmakers with names like Muldowney, Poole and McClellan, the Washington County delegation has lacked the necessary fire in the belly to get things done. Perhaps they felt that if they acted like pit bulls, Hagerstown would try to ban them.

No one in our delegation has demonstrated much starch, with the exception of Sen. Alex Mooney, and by session's end, he's getting a reputation as usually being too preoccupied with his own campaign fund-raising efforts to fight for local projects.

Since Mooney is the chief fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, and the Republican primary will come to a head in March as the legislative session is hitting high gear, there's no reason to believe this will change.

Our resident lawmakers are nice, honest and reputable to a fault. Funny how what is an attribute in society can be a liability in the halls of government. Since they believe in a thing called manners, they tend to get shoved around.

Our best hope for all the public bickering in recent months is that the local delegates are using it as practice for the regular session. Maybe they can apply some of this newfound chutzpah when dealing with the folks from Baltimore and Montgomery County.

Washington County used to have a reputation for swaggering. Muldowney would gleefully cut budget line-items out of a delegate's district just to play with the poor member's head. Poole knit close ties with leadership that were repaid with results that were never appreciated back home. And my lasting impression of McClellan was the time a ranking visitor to the Frederick delegation had to bring in a special, orthopedic chair. "Whattsa matter? He rasped cantankerously. "Can't you get your fat a-- into one of ours?" No one dared talk back to McClellan much.

Even though it's not their style, local delegation members will need to shake some lapels this session for the critical purpose of gaining operating funds for the new University System of Maryland branch campus in downtown Hagerstown.

Folks close to the issue warn there is a real possibility the city will have a fabulously renovated classroom building with precious little to put there in the way of programs. This simply cannot happen. If they have to get mean, they have to get mean.

Sen. Don Munson has a streak in him; I've seen him take apart bureaucrats whom he deemed unresponsive to his constituents. This session he may need to apply that energy to some of his cohorts on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

In the House, local lawmakers need to identify who is on our side and cozy up, even if it's a member of the opposing party, and even if it means voting for a tax on prawn imports, or something. To support our campus, Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Democrat House Speaker Michael Busch will doubtless ask for something in return. And those somethings are bound to make a few someones uncomfortable. But it will have to be done, complete with the deal-cutting and stand-taking that has not been our delegation's strength.

Donoghue and Busch are tight. Will Donoghue tell Busch straight up that to fully and enthusiastically support the speaker's agenda he needs the campus? Does he have that kind of chutzpah?

Shank and his fellow Republicans are already trying to box Donoghue into supporting their fellow-GOP governor instead, saying "Does (Donoghue) want to work with the administration or does he want to be a(n) obstructionist?"

Oh what short, short memories these Republicans have. Just two years ago, with a Democrat in the governor's mansion, they were the ones doing the obstructing - and were proud of it - while complaining that Donoghue was a go-along-to-get-along politician, blindly supporting the governor.

Now the Republicans are telling Donoghue he needs to stop obstructing and become a go-along-to-get-along politician. Certainly that about-face is to be expected, and in politics there's nothing inherently wrong with it - it's just amusing, is all.

But as outwardly harmless as it is, the partisan gamesmanship has to stop at the campus door. As Garden State reminded us last week, we are continuing to transition from a manufacturing to a service community - from money jobs to stopgap jobs.

To swing the transition back to money jobs we need college degrees in fields like medicine and tech. The campus is the project of a generation. Let's hope our lawmakers feel our intense pressure and pass that pressure on to the appropriate parties in Annapolis.

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