Thoughts on O'Malley's May 8 visit

May 04, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

On Thursday, May 8, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and some of his cabinet officers will come to Hagerstown as part of the "Capital for a Day" program.

O'Malley might have been excused for skipping this trip, because, with the exception of Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington and state Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, the governor hasn't gotten much love lately from the county delegation's members.

Leading the charge has been Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, the House Minority Whip. When the opposition is called on to speak, more often than not Shank does the talking.

The Republicans opposed the revenue measures passed in last year's special session, then sued to try to invalidate them. To hear Shank tell it, O'Malley doesn't do much correctly.


The harshest blow Shank landed was probably his quote in the April 18, edition of the Gazette, owned by Post-Newsweek Media.

Shank took Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley to task for allegedly allowing his Catholic faith to interfere with his duty to carry out the death penalty under Maryland law.

Shank said that "The last time I checked, somebody's religion as the chief executive of the state of Maryland has nothing to do with fulfilling his constitutional duties. The constitution of the state of Maryland is not like a Post-It note group of suggestions that the chief executive can adhere to if he wants to and disregard if he chooses to."

First, I don't remember Del. Shank criticizing fellow Republican state Sen. Alex Mooney when the Catholic state senator was conflicted about whether he could reconcile support for the death penalty with his Catholic beliefs.

(It must be said that Mooney's interpretation of Catholic doctrine as it applies to the death penalty is much different than O'Malley's.)

Here is the crux of the matter, and the lesson applies to more than the current Maryland death-penalty debate:

With a minority of members in the Maryland General Assembly, the state's Republicans have to find a way to cooperate with the majority party, or face the loss of crucial funding for things such as the new Maryland State Police barracks or the long-talked-about Central Booking facility.

If the Republicans had an equal share of the Maryland General Assembly membership, the verbal bombs being tossed by Del. Shank might just be political rhetoric. But right now they are the equivalent of a grasshopper challenging an eagle.

There is little to gain and much to lose unless the Republican members of the Washington County delegation stop behaving as if they held equal power in Annapolis. They don't - and their blunt statements, their lawsuits and their attitude in general might be good publicity for the Maryland Republican Party, but it isn't doing much for Washington County.

And bringing the governor's religion into the debate over the death penalty was a major mistake. Among other things, I would worry a great deal if our state's chief executive didn't have a moral compass or faith tradition to guide him or her in making such decisions. Once the death-penalty decision is made, there is no such thing as a "do-over." The wrongly executed will not get to spend a settlement from state government for their deaths..

That said, there are heinous crimes that seem to cry out for the death penalty - the unnecessary and brutal murder of Correctional Officer Jeffery Wroten, for one.

His killer, Brandon Morris, could have escaped just by handcuffing Wroten to a hospital bed, but Morris chose instead to kill the helpless Wroten. His defiant attitude - sticking his tongue out at photographers after he was spared the death penalty - robbed Morris of any sympathy he might have had for his difficult childhood.

It would be difficult - and wrong - to judge every death-penalty case as if Morris were the defendant. There have been enough death-row inmates cleared by DNA evidence to justify some caution in the rush to execute those found guilty.

But back to O'Malley. The governor had not refused to release new guidelines for executions, but has prudently sought to study the matter first in an in-depth way before issuing new rules.

For O'Malley, the easy thing to do would be to issue a set of guidelines that would make executions in Maryland quick and easy. That he has not done so is evidence of his political courage.

The bottom line: Maryland voters do not want a leader who isn't morally grounded. Nor do citizens want a leader who is driven solely by the doctrines of his or her religious beliefs.

In short, Marylanders want leaders who have a moral compass, but who also remember that there are those of other faiths and beliefs - people that he or she was elected to serve.

The politically popular thing to do would be to execute as many as possible as quickly as it could be done. That O'Malley rejected the easy solution should give him more, not less, credibility in citizens' eyes.

As for the Republicans, the only logical course now is to cooperate with the Democratic majority. That doesn't mean giving up their principles. It does mean, as the old farmers knew, that if you prod the bull, you'd better have a way to bring him down, or face the possibility of getting run over.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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