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Must it take a tragedy to spark cooperation?

February 29, 2008

After hearing reports of a devastating fire at the Boone Hotel in Hagerstown, Del. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, called Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley to inform him about the tragedy.

O'Malley then called Boonsboro Mayor Charles "Skip" Kauffman to offer state support.

Shank then expressed his appreciation to the governor, saying that "I'm very grateful to (O'Malley) for stepping up to offer that assistance.I'm sure the town is going to need it."

The major fire, which not only destroyed the old hotel, but damaged some adjacent buildings, brought members of both major political parties together to help Boonsboro recover.

Our first thought is: That's great. Our second thought is: Why can't this happen more often?

In recent years in Maryland's state capital, Democratic and Republican leaders have begun to treat each other as enemies, instead of as colleagues who hold different views on the issues.

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Instead of collaborating for the good of the citizens, too often Maryland's two parties go at each other like pro football players in a playoff game. But just as often, the observers of this game - Maryland's citizens - are forgotten by those who should be seeing to their needs.

Maryland's Republicans had a good strategy to close the gap on Maryland's structural deficit - slow but not stop the growth of the state budget for two years, until revenue growth caught up with state spending.

Democratic leaders weren't having any of that and used their numerical strength to push through a series of tax increases in a special session.

Once they'd lost, Republican leaders attempted to sue to void the actions of the special session. Had the suit been successful, we're certain the Democrats would have come back and passed the same measures in the session that's taking place now. The suit only served to irritate the majority party and reassure the Republican Party's base that representatives were at least doing something.

The truth is that many Marylanders are struggling with higher fuel and energy prices. Increasing their tax burden now does them no favors and might do them a great deal of harm.

We're not trying to place blame for this situation. There is too much finger-pointing already. What we are arguing in favor of is a new attitude in Annapolis that puts the citizens first.

Instead of thinking in terms of whether passing a certain bill will be a victory for the party, we'd like to see lawmakers think in terms of what would be best for the citizens.

To craft good bills, the two parties need to acknowledge that people on the other side of the aisle can have good ideas - ideas that are worthy of incorporating into legislation.

This change in attitude won't happen by itself. Citizens need to demand an end to excessive partisanship.

They also need to tell lawmakers that political rhetoric is fine during the campaigns, but that after the votes are counted and the winners determined, all need to work together.

After all, every legislator was elected by a group of citizens. To disrespect lawmakers because of their party affiliations is an insult to every citizen who voted for them.

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