- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Maryland’s General Assembly grew slightly more conservative and considerably more polarized last year, according to a report released yesterday by a nonpartisan government watchdog.

Most lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled legislature had liberal voting records, but those with centrist records moved to the right last year, widening the chasm between liberals and conservatives, according to the Maryland Accountability Project (MAP).

“It is likely a precursor to the strategies of both parties in the November election ahead,” said Douglas F. Graham, deputy director of MAP, a nonprofit group that has been tracking voting records since 2003.

The trend appears to be continuing.

Democrats and Republicans have been bitterly divided over several issues, including a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban homosexual “marriage” and a law that forces Wal-Mart to pay for a minimum level of employee health benefits.

The watchdog graded the state’s 47 senators and 141 delegates based on their votes on 25 separate bills during the 2005 legislative session.

For example, voting against the minimum-wage increase counted as a conservative vote, as did voting for a bill to post the photographs of convicted sex offenders on the Internet.

Lawmakers have no advance notice of which bills will be scored, Mr. Graham said.

According to the group’s “scorecard,” the number of legislators with centrist voting records declined from 28 percent to 24 percent, while those with conservative scores increased from 10 percent to 15 percent.

More than 60 percent of Maryland’s lawmakers continued to cast liberal votes, according to the analysis.

The scorecard tracked the votes on a 100-point scale, with a 0 percent ranking being the most liberal and 100 percent being the most conservative.

The most liberal member of the legislature was Delegate Joanne C. Benson, Prince George’s Democrat, who had an 8 percent rating, according to the report.

Delegate Barbara Frush, Prince George’s Democrat, had the second-most liberal voting record, with a 9 percent ranking.

State Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Western Maryland Republican, had the most conservative voting record for the third consecutive year. He scored 92 percent, his highest score yet.

Four Republicans tied for second-most conservative lawmaker: Sen. Janet Greenip of Anne Arundel County and Delegates Joseph C. Boteler III of Baltimore County, Don Dwyer Jr. of Anne Arundel County and Warren E. Miller of Howard County.

The House of Delegates has 98 Democrats and 43 Republicans; the state Senate has 33 Democrats and 14 Republicans.

Republican members tended to cast more conservative votes, and Democrats more liberal votes, but the scorecard revealed some exceptions.

The most liberal Republican was Delegate Jean Cryor of Montgomery County, who scored 24 percent.

The most conservative Democrat was Delegate Mary-Dulaney James of Harford County, who had a 60 percent rating.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, scored 32 percent, while House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, scored 24 percent.

“What we are trying to do is let people know where the votes trend, not whether it is good or bad to be liberal or conservative,” Mr. Graham said.

The scorecard for all state lawmakers is available at MAP’s Web site, www.marylandaccountabilityproject.org.

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