Ewing: Maryland General Assembly — Shake it up -- Gazette.Net


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Now that the 2012 elections are over, it is time to start looking at the Maryland General Assembly.

The power structure in the legislature is impressive. The president of the Senate, speaker of the House and standing committee chairs are an omnipotent authority. The people filling those positions do not so much “guide” the actions but actually dictate what will happen, when it will happen and what the end results will be each session.

So how in the world did the 2011 Maryland General Assembly, for the first time in its history, fail to pass a balanced budget on the last day of session, sine die?

Dissension among the ranks, and a leadership that wasn’t prepared for it, led to the collapse.

The result was the need for two special sessions during the summer. One session set taxes and the other decided on gambling legislation. Both topics were discussed ad nauseum from the beginning of the regular session. There is no good excuse why the General Assembly did not get the job done by sine die.

The legislators themselves bore the brunt of the hardship for this ordeal. Of the Assembly’s 188 members, all but 42 have other jobs to sustain themselves and their families. To rearrange schedules for two special sessions was beyond an inconvenience; it was an intrusion and for some a very costly endeavor.

The impact has gone beyond loss of time and wages. Look at some of the unintended consequences.

First, there was the late-summer resignation of Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville. Seen as a bright up-and-comer, his withdrawal from the legislature was a shock.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis said on hearing the news, “He has been critical to the passage of every piece of important legislation in the House of Delegates over the past six years.” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach added that he was “truly saddened” by Ross’ decision.

Why would Ross leave? His official answer is that he wanted to spend more time with his family: “It’s a part-time legislature, but I don’t want to be a part-time father.”

Talk among fellow legislators is that it was the unsettling nature of last year’s session and, most importantly, the lack of a path to leadership within the House that discouraged Ross to the point of jumping ship.

A second unintended consequence, and a clear indicator of unrest in the legislature, is the unusually large number of General Assembly members who are seriously considering not running for re-election in 2014. It’s all very hush-hush at the moment, but some of Maryland’s brightest are on the plank, ready to jump, too.

Lastly, how about all the stars at the General Assembly that are looking to leave the legislature to run for other offices?

The one example that stands out is Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Chevy Chase. Here is someone who is the consummate legislator. Not only does he work well with his colleagues and have a commitment to good government, but he also gets things done. He is one of the body’s brightest and best.

So now he’s seriously considering running for Maryland attorney general. If he leaves, the Maryland Senate will suffer a major loss. If the position of Senate president were opening up, would Frosh stay and not look outside?

Some of the up-and-coming stars from the House of Delegates who are looking to leave the Assembly, as well, to run for other offices: Dels. William C. Frick (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville and Jon S. Cardin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills are exploring runs for attorney general. Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac is considering the comptroller position. Several legislators are considering a run for county executive in their counties, including Guy Guzzone (D-Dist. 13) of Columbia. And, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park is exploring a run for governor.

Sure some legislators would run for other offices, anyway. The point is that there aren’t leadership positions opening up in the legislature itself. With little likelihood of advancement some of Maryland’s best are going to go.

Here’s what they see:

In the Senate, Mike Miller is the longest-serving — 25 years — Maryland president in history, which also makes him the longest-serving Senate president in the nation.

In the House, Speaker Busch is the longest-serving speaker — 10 years — in Maryland history.

A partial list of the current longest-serving House standing committee chairs in Maryland history include: Judiciary Chair Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Dist. 27A) of Upper Marlboro, 19 years; Rules and Executive Nominations Committee Chair Hattie N. Harrison (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore, 33 years; Chair of the Ways and Means Committee Sheila E. Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, 19 years; Appropriations Committee Chair Norman H. Conway (D-38B) of Salisbury, nine years.

The 2012 Maryland General Assembly session and subsequent special sessions showed signs of unrest from the rank-and-file and a leadership group that fell short of controlling the outcomes for the session. The leaders are omnipotent no more. With all those leaving or considering leaving, it is time for a shake-up. Term limits at all levels of leadership in the Maryland General Assembly are in order.

Gail Ewing of Potomac is a retired at-large Montgomery County Council member. Her email address is gewing73@comcast.net.