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Decades after McKee's political life started, it meets sudden end

February 17, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

"Young Delegate Candidate Tells Why He Backs Nixon"

The 1972 newspaper story describes the ambition of 22-year-old Robert A. McKee, a Halfway resident and fresh college graduate.

McKee had gotten a whiff of big-time political life at the 1968 Republican convention in an honorary role.

"I decided then, that if there were any way possible, I would attend the 1972 Republican national convention as a delegate," he said in the newspaper story.

His allegiance was to President Nixon, who McKee praised for reducing U.S. troop levels in Vietnam, backing voting for 18-year-olds and establishing the Environmental Protection Agency, among other things.

He won his convention delegate race.

"Politics is in his blood," McKee's mother was quoted as saying then. "It's his first love, before anything else."

As a 25-year-old upstart Republican, he failed to unseat an incumbent Maryland delegate in 1974.

But he came back, 20 years later, to decisively win a House seat.

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He was re-elected three times, most recently in 2006, when he was unopposed.

Along the way, he developed long-standing community connections through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washington County, Halfway Little League, Antietam Exchange Club and First Christian Church.

On Friday, The Herald-Mail broke the story that police had used a warrant to search McKee's house.

Further news about the investigation came out the same day, including that it was connected to child pornography and that the FBI's cyber crimes unit was involved.

No charges were filed and authorities didn't reveal details about the computers, videotapes and printed images they seized Jan. 31.

Still, in the middle of his 14th year in the Maryland General Assembly, McKee resigned -- 34 years after Nixon had a similar fall from power.

McKee, 58, said in a faxed resignation statement that he had "entered treatment" in an attempt to "get well and stay well."

For some people who knew McKee, Earth suddenly was spinning the opposite way.

"I don't know what to say," said Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II, who played in Halfway Little League when McKee was president. "It's heartbreaking, I guess."

For Walter Williams, who knows McKee through Little League, "It was like an anvil dropped on my head."

In Annapolis

McKee apparently kept his situation to himself in Annapolis, so his departure caught many legislative colleagues off guard.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said he considered McKee, R-Washington, one of his closest friends in the General Assembly.

He asked McKee almost two weeks ago if he was OK. McKee told him he was working out some problems.

"He was not his usual jovial self," Weldon said.

"He was someone who was respected by people on both sides of the aisle," he continued. "He was not a table-pounding partisan."

As a legislator, McKee was interested in issues connected to veterans and rural life, Weldon said.

McKee belonged to the Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus, the Veterans Caucus and the Rural Caucus. He chaired the Western Maryland delegation, made up of lawmakers from Washington, Frederick, Garrett, Allegany and Carroll counties.

Weldon said McKee's work on behalf of a state agricultural corporation was noteworthy.

Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. (MARBIDCO) offers financing for farms to diversify.

In 2005, the Rural Maryland Council picked McKee as one of two winners of an Outstanding Rural Legislator Award, saying he "tenaciously led the charge to provide substantial and ongoing sources of funding" for both MARBIDCO and the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund.

Legislation

News accounts about McKee's resignation have seized on the fact he co-sponsored a bill this year to prevent sex offenders from getting time reduced from their sentences.

However, the bill was sponsored by Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert/St. Mary's. McKee was one of 47 additional co-sponsors -- one-third of the House.

Often, bill sponsors gather dozens of co-sponsors as a symbolic show of support.

The bills McKee filed in recent years covered a range of topics.

One would have altered sales and use tax exemptions for religious or nonprofit organizations.

Another would require Washington County Public Schools to give high school students at least one hour for lunch each day.

They failed, but a few other bills of his in the last several years passed and were signed into law.

In 2004, after three straight years of defeat, his bill to eliminate a 50 mph speed limit for school buses succeeded. Instead, local speed limits would apply.

This year, McKee filed just one bill -- making mortgage services accept online payments.

At the end of January, just before police searched his home, he had drafted a bill to change the service of the governor from either one or two terms of four years apiece to a single six-year term.

He never filed the bill.

McKee said at the time he thought the change would prevent a governor from worrying about a second term and raising money.

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