- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Republican lawmakers say the Democrat-controlled General Assembly appears more civil than in years past because the legislature’s one-party rule allows little opportunity for debate or change.

“Any calm waters are the result of the return to backdoor dealings in Annapolis,” Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, said yesterday. “The sunlight has been shut out of the dark, smoky back rooms.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, frequently complained about a lack of civility in his dealings with Democratic lawmakers during his term, which ended last month.

Former Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni also said one-party dominance is stifling discourse on important issues.

“All debate is gone from Annapolis,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich called for civility and respect two years after his term began in 2003, after repeated battles with the legislature over slot-machine legislation, medical-malpractice insurance and education spending.

Democrats also spent 14 months and more than $1 million investigating Mr. Ehrlich’s hiring and firing practices. However, no criminal charges were filed against the administration.

The lawmakers also overruled 33 of Mr. Ehrlich’s vetoes — on bills increasing the minimum wage and forcing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to pay employee health benefits, among others.

State courts sided with Mr. Ehrlich on the Wal-Mart issue, on the firing of the utility-regulating Public Service Commission largely appointed by Mr. Ehrlich; and on his opposition to early-voting laws.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, before assuming office three weeks ago blamed Mr. Ehrlich for the diminished civility in Annapolis.

“Over the last four years, there has been a lot of drawing lines in the sand,” he said. “The ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approach I don’t think is successful. … I’m here to listen. I’m here to learn.”

Mr. O’Malley has attempted to minimize rancor by not addressing the assembly’s most divisive issues — slots and taxes — until next year.

“Everyone’s on their honeymoon,” said Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican.

However, the civility appeared over — at least for one day — when Republican senators attempted Tuesday to ensure that their bills no longer are bottled in committee.

“I can assure you they didn’t work … hard enough to get a vote,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat. “You have some backbencher who has done nothing [and] who isn’t worth the powder to blow him or her up.”

There also are hints that the civility among Democrats this session could end at any time.

Mr. O’Malley’s statement during his State of the State address that slots are off the table upset Mr. Miller, who supported Mr. Ehrlich’s gambling legislation.

“I’d say, ‘Get it done now,’ ” he said after the address. “Get it over with. Stop agonizing. It’s the right thing to do, and let’s move forward.”

Mr. Miller also wrangled repeatedly with House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, for votes for slots. And the men likely would square off again if the issue is unexpectedly introduced this session.

Democrats and Republicans also might squabble if Mr. Miller’s prediction comes true that the state’s estimated $4 billion structural deficit — without slots or tax increases — will result next year in a special session that will keep them from returning to their hometowns.

Still, lawmakers are trying to stay positive until such battles heat up.

“So far, so good,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “Stay tuned.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide