Annapolis notes

April 03, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

Atmosphere testy as session winds down

Boycott was the name of the game in Annapolis last week as Republicans accused Democrats of staging blatant power grabs and refused to participate.

When Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller arrived for a committee hearing to push his pet bill to require a new Senate confirmation of any cabinet members Gov. Robert Ehrlich might want to carry over into a second term if re-elected, Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, led a walkout of committee Republicans. They returned later, but Republicans in both legislative chambers have balked at what they see as the Democrats' systematic efforts to chisel away at the governor's powers since Ehrlich, the first Republican governor elected since Spiro Agnew, won the governor's mansion in 2002.

In the Senate, Republicans on Friday staged an unprecedented walkout from the Senate chamber as the Democratic leadership pushed that bill and several others through so Democrats would have time to override predicted vetoes before the General Assembly session ends April 10.


Sorry, Mayor

Incensed by state schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick's announcement that the state was taking over 11 failing Baltimore schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor this year, sent bulletins to House members Thursday decrying Grasmick's move as a "political stunt" - even as the legislature was considering legislation to delay the takeover.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch stopped pages from distributing the letters on the House floor, ruling that distributing political messages to legislators while in session was improper.

Who's zoomin' whom?

House Democrats went into orbit last week after the Ehrlich administration announced the release of nearly $26 million in highway user revenues to local governments. The announcement blamed legislators for having cut the money from the state budget last year.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway said the money had been there all along, and transportation subcommittee Chairman Peter Franchot, a Democratic candidate for state comptroller, responded with a letter to Ehrlich that minced no words.

"Governor, I have one question for you," Franchot wrote, "have you no shame?

"You and I both know that (Transportation Secretary) Bob Flanagan and your administration were the biggest and most intractable opponents to dispensing the $25.8 million in highway user revenues which the General Assembly mandated last April."

Incidentally, most Republican lawmakers believe the bill requiring new confirmation for old cabinet members was crafted to target Flanagan, who might have the teeniest bit of difficulty being confirmed again.

A roast and a toast

House Minority Leader George Edwards, a Garrett County Republican known for his easy manner and country drawl, is completing his career in the House of Delegates, having announced last year that he will be seeking the Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican John Hafer, who represents Garrett and Allegany counties and the westernmost portion of Washington County.

So on Wednesday night, Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, and Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, hosted a roast for Edwards at the Marriott Waterfront in downtown Annapolis.

"I really can't say anything bad about George Edwards," said Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway, one of the first speakers of the evening.

"You'd better sit down then, Mr. Chairman," heckled Del. Daniel Mayer, R-Charles.

Edwards famously authored bills for the past two years to establish bear populations in every Maryland county, in response to bills by Del. Barbara Frush, D-Prince George's/Anne Arundel, to halt state-sanctioned bear hunts in Western Maryland.

Conway warned Edwards that assuming he wins the Senate election, he would have to "educate a whole other body about the dangers of bears."

Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, hinted that Edwards' bear bills were doomed from the start. "No self-respecting bear would ever allow himself to be relocated to Prince George's County," he said.

Nothing, not even Edwards' boyish haircut, was sacred. "Parting your hair down the middle is cute when you're 6 years old," Kelly told the audience, "but when you're damn near 60, it's just weird."

Rat Patrol disbanded?

While a few glitches remain in the renovation and expansion of the House office building, at least one of the creepier problems seems to have subsided.

Thanks to exterminators, the rodents that bewildered legislators and frightened the dickens out of some visiting Girl Scouts appear to have surrendered.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Thursday he hadn't heard of any rat sightings "for some time."

Pests of the GOP variety, however, remain a concern for the speaker in this year's election. Busch, a Democrat from Annapolis, has become a particular Republican target this year.

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