Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lawmakers pass bill to fill District 4 seat

Supporters say process will save money; opponents say congressman failed commitment to constituents

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ANNAPOLIS — Minutes before the General Assembly session ended Monday, lawmakers passed emergency legislation allowing a special summer general election to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn.

Wynn (D-Dist. 4) of Mitchellville plans to leave his seat May 31 to take a job at a Washington law firm seven months before the end of his term in January 2009.

Wynn had represented the district since 1993. Donna F. Edwards of Fort Washington, who defeated him in the Feb. 12 primary, still faces Republican Peter James in November.

Current law would have required Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to leave the seat vacant or to call special primary and general elections.

O’Malley said the single special election will save taxpayers money. It is expected to cost Montgomery County $600,000 and Prince George’s County, which has more precincts in the district, about $700,000. Holding both a special primary and general election was expected to cost $2.6 million between the two counties.

As part of the legislation, candidates for the special general election would be chosen by the local central committees for each party, which would then submit their recommendations to the state committees.

In announcing his resignation, Wynn said his early exit would allow Edwards a smooth transition in representing the district and would help her in the event of a special election.

‘‘I think the passage was important. ... I also like the process involving the central committees,” said Edwards, who was milling about the crowd after the end of session Monday night.

But the reduced cost of the one special election was not enough to sway some GOP lawmakers.

‘‘This is an important piece of legislation, one that will choose the next congressional representative and one that will cost citizens $1.2 million because one individual decided he didn’t want to fulfill his obligation to his office,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby. ‘‘Citizens of Maryland should not pay this bill and we don’t need it if [Wynn] ... stays in office till the normal time.”

Others — including James — have questioned whether the process gives Edwards an unfair advantage in securing the seat.

‘‘I don’t agree with that,” Edwards said. ‘‘I think it was unacceptable to leave the district vacant without representation or conduct two elections. Neither was acceptable.”

For Prince George’s County Sen. James C. Rosapepe, the decision came down to common sense.

‘‘This is a situation where you have to look at the facts of the situation. She already has the nomination, so the question is who should be the temporary member,” said Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park. ‘‘So it seems the voters have spoken. I think most of the Democrats in the district would want the person they voted for to be the Democratic nominee. ... I think sometimes common sense needs to win out over theory.”