- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

The nonpartisan Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG) has released its annual report grading Maryland state lawmakers’ voting records, and the response was anything but nonpartisan.

That’s because the group’s Roll Call report, which grades legislators on business and economic-development issues, gave failing marks to most Democrats in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

“These ratings shine the light on the harmful practices of some Democrats with regards to business,” said John M. Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker said the bad grades do not reflect the lawmakers’ positive influence on businesses.

“Democratic leadership on health care, education, the environment, and transportation has built and sustained a fantastic business climate in Maryland,” he said.

The Roll Call report gave scores below 50 (out of a possible 100) to 25 of the state Senate’s 33 Democrats and 83 of the House’s 98 Democrats.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, received a 50 percent rating, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, scored 33 percent. However, all of the Senate’s 14 Republicans ranked above 50 percent, and 42 of the 43 House Republicans scored above 50 percent.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican, scored 80 percent, and House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, Western Maryland Republican, scored 82 percent.

MBRG President Robert O.C. Worcester said the report hasn’t changed its criteria in 20 years, but the Democrats’ voting patterns have changed. A decade ago, he said, 84 Democrats scored 74 percent or better, but just four scored that high last year.

“I wish more than anything the Democrats were pro-business,” Mr. Worcester said. “It is an agenda for what it takes to make a good business climate. We don’t put a partisan face on it.”

En Espanol

Spanish language versions of living wills and a similar document directing end-of-life and mergency medical decisions are now available in Maryland.

“This topic is one which should be discussed in every home,” said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat. “And I am glad we could make this information available for the more than 300,000 Marylanders who speak Spanish as their first language.”

State law permits residents to complete either a living will or a longer document known as an advance directive to assign another person the authority to make their end-of-life or emergency medical decision.

An advance directive also can be used to stipulate desired medical-treatment options, including whether to provide treatments that sustain life.

Hard campaigning

Armed with energy and determination, Richard Collins had just about everything he needed to vie for Virginia’s 57th District delegate seat — except the cash for fancy TV commercials. So the Democratic hopeful stood in front of Albemarle County shopping centers, handing out pamphlets and chatting up possible voters.

The bargain-basement tactics got him arrested.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia on Wednesday asked an Albemarle County judge to rule Mr. Collins’ trespassing arrest a violation of free-speech laws. If the arrest is allowed to stand, civil liberties lawyers fear it could limit dozens of homegrown politicians’ campaigning this fall.

ACLU lawyers argued in Circuit Court that Article I of the Virginia Constitution protects one’s right to speak or hand out literature in a town square setting. As Virginians have migrated from cities to suburbs, however, such social centers have all but dried up, ACLU Executive Director Kent Willis said.

“The only comparable thing to a traditional town center is a shopping mall,” he said.

On May 7, Mr. Collins headed to Shopper’s World, a strip mall near Route 29. There, the retired University of Virginia professor camped in front of a Whole Foods supermarket, passed along fliers and greeted shoppers.

That’s when property manager Charles Lebo accused him of solicitation and asked him to leave. When Mr. Collins refused, he was arrested.

“We asked him politely to leave for over an hour,” Mr. Lebo told the Associated Press. “He said he didn’t have much money for his campaign funding, so he thought being arrested would give him the publicity he was seeking.”

In their filing Wednesday, ACLU lawyers argued Shopper’s World had allowed others to use its property for public displays as recently as Aug. 12.

“For example,” they said, “the Girl Scouts of America have been allowed to conduct fundraising activities.”

But more important than the double-standard is the possible breach of Virginia law concerning free press and free speech, Mr. Willis said. He said courts in six other states, including California and New Jersey, have interpreted their constitutions as extending free-speech laws to cover activity at privately owned shopping centers. Virginia courts have never grappled with the issue.

Mr. Collins ultimately lost his party’s nomination, and he faces criminal trespassing charges Sept. 6.

“A vibrant democratic society depends on communication between candidates for office and voters,” Mr. Willis said. “It therefore makes sense that candidates for office would use these suburban places.”

Hurson quits House

John A. Hurson, chairman of a House of Delegates committee that considers health care bills, is leaving the Maryland legislature to become a lobbyist in Washington for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. The Montgomery County Democrat surprised fellow lawmakers last Monday when he announced he would leave office, effective Oct. 1 after 15 years as a lawmaker.

Mr. Hurson has just completed a year as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a position that gave him national exposure. In his new job, he will represent about 600 personal-care companies nationally.

As chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, Mr. Hurson played an important role as lawmakers debated such issues as health insurance, stem-cell research and medical-malpractice insurance.

Delegate Peter A. Hammen, Baltimore Democrat, was appointed Friday by Speaker Michael E. Busch as the new committee chairman. Mr. Hammen has been a member of the House since 1995 and has been vice chairman of the committee since 2003.

The Montgomery County Democratic State Central Committee will pick a replacement to take Mr. Hurson’s seat.

President suspended

American University has suspended President Benjamin Ladner while outside lawyers and auditors investigate his personal and travel expenses.

Provost Cornelius Kerwin will serve as acting president while Mr. Ladner is on administrative leave, according to a brief statement by Leslie Bains, head of the university’s Board of Trustees.

The statement, issued late Wednesday, did not include any details about the particular personal and travel expenses being investigated.

The university’s board said last month that the investigation was prompted by an anonymous letter sent to several board members.

The Washington Post reported that it had received a similar letter saying Mr. Ladner and his wife charged the university for a personal chef, vacations, presents for their children and maintenance on their home.

Mr. Ladner has led the 11,000-student school in Northwest since 1994 and has been credited with increasing fundraising and improving academic standards.

Shooting for votes

Democrat Timothy M. Kaine became the first candidate in the race this year for Virginia governor to announce an affiliated support group of outdoor-sports aficionados and unveiled new, specialized logos in bright hunter orange.

Sportsmen for Tim Kaine was detailed for reporters Friday during a skeet shoot near Hardy in Southwest Virginia.

Using a double-barreled, 12-gauge shotgun, Mr. Kaine fired at 24 flying clay targets and hit 14.

His Republican foe, Jerry W. Kilgore, plans to announce his counterpart organization of hunters, fishermen and shooting-sports enthusiasts tomorrow,

Mr. Kaine touted his role in guaranteeing a right to hunt, fish and trap game in the Virginia Constitution.

However, he has few admirers among gun-rights advocates — he drew an F from the National Rifle Association.

S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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