Lobbyist doing lawmakers' job

January 29, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Today's column is titled "America's Funniest Home Lawmakers."

If you've been following recent news, the most notable is the hiring, by unnamed "businessmen," of Annapolis super-lobbyist Bruce Bereano to play mother hen for funding of Hagerstown's new university campus.

Bereano was by far Annapolis' top lobbyist until the "unpleasantness" several years ago when he wound up in the calaboose doing time on a mail fraud rap. Now he's leading the university fight. From one institution to another, I suppose you could say.

Known for speaking up for downtrodden organizations that have trouble getting their voices heard, like the tobacco industry, Bereano did not let his brush with the law embarrass or diminish his enthusiasm in the least. When he got out he came back to the lobbying scene with more gusto and bravado than ever. You have to admire that.


Despite what you think of lobbyists in general, Bereano operates under the system as it is set up, and he does his job very, very well. Having him on your bench is a little like having Terrell Owens on your football team. You cringe at the behavior, but the results make you happy he's on your side.

Local leaders are paying Bereano $10,000 to speak up for campus funding, which is an outright bargain, considering we pay local lawmakers in the neighborhood of $30,000 each to do essentially the same job. Makes me wonder why we don't just fire our lawmakers and replace them with seven more lobbyists and use the savings for the Smithsburg library, or something.

Two other points: One, I don't know if the local business leaders who hired Bereano are aware of this, but despite all the hysterics, funding for the operation of the new campus was never in any doubt. No way in the world the state was going to spend millions renovating the old Baldwin hotel and then have it sit empty for want of a million more.

The governor quickly announced the campus would receive $1 million and everyone got all hot. Poo. It was supposed to get nearly twice that, the amount necessary if this project were to be anything more than Frostburg-plus.

Second, Bereano's hiring amounts to a $10,000 slap at our current lawmakers, none of whom generated enough confidence in the local leaders that they could get the job done.

You think they would have bothered to pony up 10 boxes of ziti if we still had Doc McClellan, Bruce Poole, Paul Muldowney or Cas Taylor in office? With a single snarl, Taylor would have gotten the funds on a vote of 144-0.

This a particular insult to Del. John Donoghue, who is supposed to represent the city of Hagerstown - where the campus is located - but is much like the Mars Spirit in that we've lost communication with him, outside of sporadic, staticy reports.

OK, maybe I can understand this. Donoghue will probably have to make some locally unpopular votes in Annapolis so he stays on the good side of leadership and the campus funding stays on the good side of the ledger. So a low profile might not be such a bad idea.

And you can't say Sen. Don Munson, a member of the Senate money committee, hasn't stepped up. He's become a passionate campus supporter. If the state budget doesn't have campus money in it, the state budget just might find itself wrapped in dynamite with wild-eyed Munson on the roof of the State House holding two wires an inch apart.

So do we really need to spend extra money for blowhards to promote the campus? The answer is yes. I, for one, am planning to write a piece strongly urging legislative funding, and just so all the local business leaders know, I prefer payment in small bills.

I'll be appearing at the South Pointe Fitness Club in the South Pointe Shopping Center on East Oak Ridge Drive across from FedEx this Monday, Feb. 2, from 5 to 8 p.m. to sign copies of "Petrified Fact," a collection of 86 old, I mean "classic," columns.

All profits will go to an uninsured Hagerstown family with two small boys, Ian and Zachary, who are autistic, and in need of expensive treatment. The folks at the gym - management and members - have been wonderful with their help for this family, and this is my small way of pitching in. For further information about the event or about the boys, phone South Pointe at 301-791-7934.

So, I hope to see you there, and, honest, I'm not half as unapproachable as I look.

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