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Local delegation tries a bit of horse-trading

January 26, 2006

Washington County Delegation Chairman Christopher Shank this week said he and his colleagues faced a "moral quandary" when a Montgomery County lawmaker asked for their help in overriding one of the governor's vetoes.

Fortunately, the quandary sparked an epiphany, a moment of insight during which local lawmakers realized that it's sometimes better to do some horse-trading than it is to make enemies.

It didn't hurt that the issue wasn't one of statewide importance, nor did it have any moral or religious overtones.

It involved a bill to allow Montgomery County to install speed cameras - devices that photograph drivers exceeding the posted limit. Violators are then sent citations.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed the bill last year. That's odd, considering that it was not a statewide bill. If installing speed cameras upsets Montgomery County citizens, they can vote their local lawmakers out of office.

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The legislative tide turned during a floor debate on the issue. Montgomery County Delegation Chairman Charles Barkley stared at the Washington County lawmakers and reminded them that he was in their corner when the issue was keeping local control of tip jars.

After the local delegation voted unanimously in favor of the override, Sheila Hixson, the Montgomery County delegate who sponsored the bill to tinker with the tip jars, came up and gave Del. Robert McKee, R-Washington, a hug and a kiss.

Does that mean Hixson, who also chairs the important House Ways and Means Committee, will back off the tip-jar legislation?

Maybe yes, maybe no. But it's a lot easier to imagine Hixson pushing ahead with the tip-jar bill if the local delegation had ignored Montgomery County's plea.

The truth is that rural areas such as Washington County are outnumbered by metro-area representatives. Getting along may occasionally require holding one's nose and voting for something you'd rather not. But the alternative is being irrelevant.

We are not suggesting that the delegation roll over for the metro areas on every vote. But if local delegation members compromise when they can, especially on bills that have no effect locally, they should have some new allies when their bills need some support.

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