- The Washington Times - Monday, April 22, 2002

ANNAPOLIS It happened time and time again in the 2002 Maryland General Assembly. Republican lawmakers would stand up to debate an issue and argue passionately for their cause.
They staunchly opposed the effort to extend voting rights to repeat felons. They bristled at a 34-cent tax increase on every pack of cigarettes. And they were outraged by the governor's once-a-decade redistricting plans, which they called blatantly partisan.
On each of these issues, the Grand Old Party came up the loser.
Losing is a fact of life for Republicans in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber them 2-to-1.
In the General Assembly, the figures are even more lopsided. In the Senate, Republicans account for 13 of the 47 senators. In the House of Delegates, it's 35 of 141.
"Our numbers are so small in the legislature, we're bordering on being irrelevant," said House Minority Leader Alfred Redmer of Baltimore County.
How do the Republicans accomplish anything when they are so outnumbered?
"You do a lot of praying and planning," said Michael Steele, chairman of the state's Republican Party. "When you have the numbers working against you the way you do here, it's very important that you be smart about the issues you want to go after."
Analysts say Maryland Republicans use a handful of strategies to be modestly successful.
The Republicans in the Maryland legislature all come from rural and suburban regions. The areas with the most General Assembly representatives Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Baltimore City are almost completely Democratic, with a few exceptions in Montgomery.
So, Republicans must attempt to recruit help from like-minded Democrats, who are often also from rural or suburban areas.
Such was the case this year in the debate over extending voting rights for those who had been convicted twice or moreof felonies. Senate Republicans aligned themselves with Democrats such as Sen. Thomas Bromwell, Baltimore County Democrat, who said his Perry Hall constituents opposed the measure.
"Quite frankly, I can't take this home," he said during a debate.
The measure passed 26-20. But the more conservative elements succeeded in moderating the measure, amending it to exclude multiple felons who had committed violent crimes, such as rape and murder.
Republicans also find they can have more influence in a committee, where ratios are sometimes more favorable.
Again, Republicans may not be able to kill a bill. But they may succeed in tugging the issue in their direction, as Delegate Ken Schisler, Dorchester Republican, did in molding the governor's coastal bays initiative in the Environmental Matters Committee.
The bill extended development regulations in the Chesapeake Bay region to the five bays along Maryland's Atlantic Coast. Mr. Schisler, who represents a nearby area, helped modify it to exempt piers and limit its applications on farmland.
The key, Mr. Schisler said, is doing your homework so you can argue persuasively.
"I think you can be influential if you're willing to put in the work, regardless of party," he said.
Mr. Redmer describes the relationship between Democratic and Republican lawmakers as respectful, particularly commending House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who could use his powers to squelch debate.
"Whether we agree or disagree on any issue, whether he is patting us on the back or, figuratively speaking, beating us over the head, he is always more than generous in giving us the ability to voice our opinion," Mr. Redmer said.
Working within the system doesn't always meet success, however, so some legislators will just "try to be a thorn in the wheel and clog up the works wherever they can," said James G. Gimpel, associate professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park.
"If compromise with the Democrats isn't going to get you anywhere anyway, you might as well be obnoxious," he said. "Your constituency is going to like that, and you're going to get re-elected."
Republicans insist the tide is turning. They are thrilled that Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland Republican, is running for governor, a credible threat to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the probable Democratic nominee.
They expect redistricting, intended to steer more Democrats into office, instead will spur a voter backlash. They say many Maryland Democrats are centrist, and cross over to support some Republicans such as President Reagan in 1984 and George Bush in 1988.
Meanwhile, Mr. Steele, the nation's only black Republican chairman, has been working hard to "lay a foundation of understanding from communities from which we have been disenfranchised in the Republican Party."
He believes blacks, Hispanics and other traditional Democrats will be sympathetic with Republican stances on small business, family and faith.
Still, in Maryland, they are fighting a lot of history.
Asked what it would take for Republicans to become the majority party in Maryland, Mr. Gimpel poses one scenario.
"A plague that would kill all the Democrats?" he asks.

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