Lawmakers launch session with a bit of housecleaning

January 12, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER


ANNAPOLIS - The state capital is in a bit of disarray as the General Assembly gets under way this year.

Construction continues on the addition to the House office building, which was supposed to be finished in time for opening day, but some offices already have begun the move to the new section and others have been displaced. A placard next to the elevator lists temporary locations for a handful of delegates caught in the middle of the transition.

And while opening proceedings flowed fairly smoothly for the Senate on its first day Wednesday, the disarray in the House was not confined to the construction site.

House Republicans, frustrated by what they claim is House Speaker Michael E. Busch's habit of obstructing the minority, wanted to nominate Minority Leader George Edwards, a candidate for one of Washington County's Senate seats in the upcoming election, as Speaker - even though they knew they didn't have enough votes for him to win.


They were told, they said, that they would not be recognized during the opening session to make the nomination.

So when the Democrats nominated Busch to continue in his position, 34 House Republicans - including the four Republicans in the Washington County delegation - voted against him. Several others abstained.

Last year, Republicans abstained from voting on his nomination for Speaker. They were still angry over his handling of an override vote on Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto of a medical malpractice bill.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Busch's refusal to allow the Republicans to make their own nomination "reflects how he's been running this institution," and charged that Busch was not allowing the views of the minority.

"He is Speaker of the Democratic caucus," Shank said.

"I could not in good conscience vote for this Speaker," he said.

Their desire to nominated Edwards, said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, was an attempt to make a "positive" statement by allowing Republicans to vote for someone rather than against Busch.

Those Republicans voting against Busch did so because "we felt it was a message we need to have our constituents understand that we do not support this speaker," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany.

Asked whether the vote had set the tone for this year's session, Myers said "I think the tone has been set anyway."

Democrats, he said, "can't deal with success" of the Ehrlich administration.

"They will do anything they can to destroy this governor," he said.

Del. Tanya T. Shewell, R-Baltimore/Carroll, had her own term for Busch's leadership style: "tyranny."

Democrats, however, attempted to take the high road.

After hearing the Republicans would not be recognized, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said, "I don't believe that."

But asked later about the Republicans' charge, Busch did not deny it.

"The minority has the right to nominate its (party) leadershipand we don't interfere in that," he said.

As for allowing them to nominate one of their own for Speaker, Busch said "we didn't think that was a precedent that would be good."

Busch said the majority party's nomination for Speaker had been traditionally respected.

Busch said the Democrats wanted to protect "the tradition and the integrity of the institution. I see no reason why we should go in another direction."

Donoghue called the Republicans' attempt to nominate Edwards "an exercise in futility," and said their priority should be to build consensus and work with the majority party.

"Anybody who does the math can see (the Democrats are) the majority party."

Donoghue said Busch had worked well with him on several issues, and said the Republicans should try to get along.

"I'm not out to insult people," Donoghue said. "I think our constituents expect us to get along."

And except for the nomination flap, they did - with all the usual opening-day remarks about cooperation.

"Governor, I look forward to working with you, the Senate and Minority Leader Edwards," Busch said, after 95 delegates voted for him to continue as Speaker. "I'm hopeful that we can work together to accomplish many things during this session."

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