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Donoghue's delegation dodge is understandable, but not acceptable

January 27, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

One of the derisive mantras in Annapolis is that you have to "go along to get along." In other words, to promote the things you believe in, you have to play ball with distasteful bedfellows.

Apparently, not any more.

Del. John Donoghue, the lone Democrat in Washington County's legislative delegation, said this week he won't attend weekly delegation meetings because, "It's not a productive use of my time."

Supporters of home rule for Washington County must secretly be loving this - if our state guys can't even stand to be in the same room together for 45 minutes, how can we expect them to accomplish what needs to be accomplished?

Donoghue's increasing public invisibility is now becoming a legitimate concern. Previously, Donoghue could reasonably argue that he was skipping functions that were largely window-dressing affairs lacking in substance.

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But that position crumbles when it comes to delegation meetings, because they are formal, policy shaping sessions where votes are taken on bills that affect the people of Washington County.

To be sure, this "not a productive use of my time" stuff is basically code for "I cannot stand to be on the same platform with co-Washington County Del. Chris Shank."

To understand how personal this must be for Donoghue, remember it was Donoghue, a Democrat, who got scholarship money for Shank, a Republican. Donoghue took Shank under his wing when a young Shank was serving as the delegation's secretary. And Donoghue, to the chagrin of Democrats, effectively endorsed Shank in his run against incumbent Del. Bruce Poole by staying neutral.

Today, Shank seems to revel in publicly carving up his mentor at every turn. Even some of his fellow Republicans have expressed discomfort with Shank's trick (when he was delegation chairman) of failing to invite Donoghue to delegation functions - and at the same time criticizing him for his no-shows.

Of course, Donoghue's no-shows go far beyond Shank's noninvitations. And Shank's treatment of Donoghue is not really out of bounds, because this is politics. But it's why I increasingly hate politics: Civilized behavior is optional.

Plenty of political apprentices have turned on their mentors under the banner of "politics." It's up to the individual politician to decide if "politics" is a great enough reason to forget loyalties and turn on former friends.

Shank has been fortunate that his nemesis is the mild-mannered Donoghue, whose response has been to disappear. Had Shank tried the same shenanigans with, say, crusty old "Doc" McClellan, he currently would be hanging by his thumbs in the House cloakroom without his pants.

Donoghue, with his ties to leadership, probably has the power to take every bill that Shank files and put it in a box where it will never see the light of day. It's amazing how fast lawmakers will accept an attitude adjustment if all of a sudden they see their bills mysteriously disappearing from the floor's voting list. But instead, Donoghue plays right into the trap.

Shank, in one of the most delicious lines ever uttered in the history of Washington County politics, said of Donoghue's decision, "I'm not going to descend into the type of personal attacks and gutter-style politics that Delegate Donoghue wants to engage in."

No, he doesn't have to "descend" - he's already there, and has been most of his political life. Much of what Shank does in office is performed with a partisan agenda in mind.

So Donoghue's refusal to attend delegation meetings is understandable - if not defensible. The halls of legislatures are filled with hardball-style partisans such as Shank. Sure, they can be boorish, but there comes a time when you can't let personalities get in the way of the people you represent.

For a county lawmaker, the delegation meetings are not optional. Attending delegation meetings is part of the job Donoghue is paid a good salary, by us, to do.

Donoghue's argument that his constituents are free to contact him personally only goes so far. Public meetings allow a representative to hear people and views he might not otherwise be exposed to.

If political animals such as Shank rankle you so, perhaps politics is not your optimum calling. Donoghue's refusal to fight fire with fire is commendable in church. But allowing yourself to be browbeaten by your own team when the fates of the people you represent are at stake is no honor.

In the end, Shank's endless partisan grandstanding and Donoghue's pouty response are equally insufferable.

The county is starved for leadership, but with these two, leadership qualities appear to be out of the question; right now, we'd call it a win if both could just grow up.

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