Once pals, Donoghue and Shank on the outs

December 02, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!"

? Shakespeare's "King Lear"

Del. Christopher Shank is not the child of Del. John Donoghue, but it would be hard to argue that Donoghue is not Shank's political godfather.

Not only did Donoghue arrange two legislative scholarships for Shank, he used him as treasurer on one of his campaigns.

And, in the Republican Shank's 1998 race against Bruce Poole, Donoghue refused to endorse his fellow Washington County Democrat.

"I'm just not involved at all," Donoghue said.

This past week Donoghue further limited his involvement with public life, saying he would not meet with any of the county's other local elected officials prior to the 2008 General Assembly session.

Donoghue said the meetings are "not a productive use of time." If other elected officials want to talk, they can call him on the phone, he said.


But according to sources close to the situation, it is not the meetings that Donoghue minds, but knowing he would have to share the stage with Shank, his one-time protégé. Although they were once pals, now, as the expression goes, the bloom is off the rose.

What withered this friendship that once transcended party lines? My best guess is partisanship.

For example, after Donoghue defended his support of Gov. Martin O'Malley's special-session measures to close the state's $1.5 billion structural deficit as protecting the county's interests, Shank fired back.

"Del. Donoghue voted for the largest tax increase in Maryland's history," said Shank, adding that "I hardly see how that is protecting our interests in Annapolis."

Shank, the minority whip, had a large role in crafting the GOP's strategy, which was essentially to limit the growth of the state budget for two years, to allow Marylanders "pause to catch our breath."

Donoghue wasn't buying it, in part because it called for the delay of Thornton Commission educational funding, which, it should be noted, was passed by a legislature controlled by Democrats, who knew when they voted for it that they weren't sure how they would fund it after the first year.

Calling the GOP plan "the height of intellectual dishonesty," Donoghue said Washington County would lose $23 million in school funding without the expected Thornton money.

"They were simply trying to send a message and play partisan politics," Donoghue said.

We'll see how Donoghue votes on Gov. O'Malley's Chesapeake Bay "green fund" clean-up measures. Under a Republican governor, Donoghue voted against the so-called "flush tax," which was designed to accomplish the clean-up in part by creating a pool of money to upgrade local sewer-treatment plants.

Hagerstown's plant, you might remember, has had some problems in recent years and might be able to use some of that money.

In dredging up all of this history, I'm not trying to make the case that either Shank or Donoghue is entirely in the wrong. But neither is entirely right.

Washington County is a small, rural county with most members of its delegation belonging to the minority party. And the Republicans weren't able to persuade the public that a two-year slowdown in budget growth was the thing to do.

So now GOP members have two choices ? continue to gripe about it and toss rhetorical broadsides or find a way to compromise. Rejecting compromise will mean being irrelevant for the rest of O'Malley's term.

That doesn't mean throwing out all of their Republican principles, but it does mean acknowledging the reality of being in the minority. In other words, Shank has to try harder to get along.

For Donoghue, the task will be harder. Because he's the delegation's only member of the majority party, he needs to take on a greater leadership role.

This is not a role he is comfortable with. When the Hagerstown and Washington County governments were fighting in 2004, I asked Donoghue whether he would intervene to push the idea of cooperation.

"As far as leadership on squabbles between the city and the county, I don't feel that my job is to be referee or disciplinarian," Donoghue said.

But that's just what he needs to do, in part because he's the only one who, with 100 percent certainty, can hold up a local bond bill until everyone involved decides to play nice.

I'm sure he would rather continue to concentrate on medical legislation, but he can't if he really wants to serve the public to the best of his ability.

He should also attend those meetings with other elected officials. Yes, he could do a lot of that work more quickly in one-to-one conversations on the phone, but then the public gets left out because citizens can't hear what is said.

And's let's be realistic ? Donoghue isn't going to answer everyone's calls. Those officials who don't agree with his point of view still deserve an opportunity to discuss issues with him, including the recent teacher-pension bill he said he introduced "for discussion purposes" at House Speaker Michael Busch's request.

I'm sure this isn't the way Donoghue wanted things to go, but when you run for a job, you know that life ? and sometimes your fellow lawmakers ? will toss some curve balls your way. Hiding in the dugout might prevent you from getting beaned, but if you don't step up to the plate, you'll never hit that home run.

Bob Maginnis is the
editorial page editor of
The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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