Donoghue-Shank relationship still tense

March 21, 2009

ANNAPOLIS -- There was a running joke that Del. Richard B. Weldon was going to have to sit between Del. Christopher B. Shank and Del. John P. Donoghue during meetings of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly because of bad blood between the two.

Turns out it wasn't a joke, said Weldon, who is unaffiliated and represents parts of Frederick and Washington counties.

The relationship between Shank, R-Washington, and Donoghue, D-Washington, had deteriorated so much they didn't want to sit next to each other during the meetings, Weldon said.

Beginning this year, Weldon began sitting between the two lawmakers during meetings of the full eight-member delegation.

Citing the ongoing tension between Shank and Donoghue -- which heated up last week when Donoghue blamed Shank for proposed funding cuts to the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown -- Weldon called the delegation's relationship "dysfunctional."

He said their problems had a lot to do with party loyalty, though both Shank and Donoghue have denied that charge in the past.


In the 1990s, when Shank was a legislative assistant for the Washington County delegation and Donoghue was chairman, they were on good terms.

Shank and Donoghue have had a tense relationship at least since Republican Robert L. Ehrlich was governor, and their relationship further deteriorated after the 2006 election, when Shank helped an unsuccessful GOP effort to unseat Donoghue. Last year, Shank offered through a Herald-Mail story to "bury the hatchet" with Donoghue.

Latest claims

Donoghue said twice last week Shank was to blame for lawmakers' targeting USM-H in decisions on budget cuts.

Donoghue said state lawmakers hear Shank say the state is spending too much money, and make a statement by suggesting budget cuts come from Washington County. Donoghue used a similar argument last year when USM-H budget cuts were considered.

There also was a theory, put forth by Donoghue, that Shank was the reason that funding for the Maryland State Police barrack in Hagerstown was cut from Gov. Martin O'Malley's capital budget because of his vote against the state budget and his role as a plaintiff in the lawsuit to overturn the special session.

O'Malley has said that is not true.

On Friday, Donoghue repeated that Shank's "grandstanding" and "theatrics" are bad for Washington County. Donoghue said Shank is trying to make a name for himself in Annapolis instead of working for the people of Washington County.

"I thought these lingering problems Delegate Donoghue is describing were settled last year, but apparently they weren't," Shank said Friday in response to Donoghue's latest claims. "The citizens are very frustrated with this type of finger-pointing, name calling and the blame game. They don't want to see this type of fighting in Annapolis from their leaders."

Shank said he was not going to engage in any fighting with Donoghue.

"Delegate Donoghue is welcome to criticize me for the job that I do, and I stand accountable to the citizens of Washington County for my conservative viewpoint on the budget and votes against the largest tax increase in Maryland's history," Shank said.

Donoghue said Shank makes things more difficult for other members of the Washington County delegation, including Donoghue and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, to work for the local community.

"One person is causing a lot of turmoil down here," Donoghue said. "It's very troublesome."

Impact on the delegation

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., who is chairman of the Washington County delegation, said all members of the delegation have been very cooperative throughout the session.

Myers, R-Allegany/Washington, said during the first three delegation meetings of the session, all eight members attended and stayed for the full meeting. That is a stark contrast to last year, when attendance at the meetings was not as consistent.

"A positive attitude can change everything," Myers said. "We're here for the citizens of Washington County. We're not here to be Republicans and Democrats."

The delegation has sponsored 12 bills during the session, and most appear to have been received favorably by state lawmakers.

There was only one hiccup, Myers said, referring to a bill pushed by Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore that later had to be amended. Myers said Mullendore and the Washington County attorney had an apparent miscommunication over language in the bill.

Shank said Myers' leadership has been positive for the delegation, and the bills sponsored by the local group have been "progressing the way they ought to."

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said delegation members might disagree on policy, but have a good working relationship.

"From my point of view, we get along fine," Mooney said.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, is the Washington County delegation's newest member and was named vice chairman of the delegation this year.

"Yes, we have challenges with our delegation, but boy ... it's not as bad as some of them," Serafini said.

Serafini said he has a good relationship with all of the members and has received support from all of them.

Serafini said he knew most members of the delegation before he was appointed to fill a vacancy in Annapolis, and said he has received a lot of support since his arrival.

"All of them are trying to do what they believe is best for the community, and they are taking different approaches to do that," he said.

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