Friday, April 27, 2007

Reporters Notebook: Conspiracy theory? O’Malley signs two versions of bills

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Folks who spend too much time scrutinizing the actions of government have noticed that Gov. Martin O’Malley is signing the House and Senate versions of bills that pass the General Assembly — a break from the tradition of recent governors who would sign one and veto the other as a duplicate.

Many bills that pass the General Assembly have original versions introduced in both chambers. Lawmakers generally make sure both versions ‘‘conform” so that the two bills have the effect of a single legislative action.

Vetoing one bill means an end-of-session report is shorter. But there’s no legal reason to sign just one bill, said Robert Zarnoch, the legislature’s counsel. The last version signed gets added to the law books.

Under the previous Democratic governor, at least, the determination of whether to sign the House or Senate versions was one of Parris Glendening’s ways to show favor to one lawmaker over another, a sort of a legislative lagniappe.

O’Malley, it seems, is being far less passive-aggressive.

‘‘It’s part of this administration’s attempt to work alongside of members of the General Assembly,” spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

What we’ve heard from some folks is that with so many people scouring the law-making process, legislators are pressuring the governor’s office to see that their version of the bill gets signed. Abbruzzese said he was unaware of any remarkable pressure.

— Douglas Tallman

Oh happy day?

The grins couldn’t have been wider at Tuesday’s eco-heavy bill-signing ceremony.

But things got a little uncomfortable when Mike Miller took the mic from O’Malley and poked at the guv — again — for being too deliberative in his first year. He even found a way to tie in the day’s theme, referencing the signing of a bill to prohibit the commercial harvest of diamondback terrapins.

‘‘The terrapin is the only creature on Earth, like your administration, governor, that might not go as fast as some people would like, but it never goes backward,” Miller jabbed.

The comment, despite being nothing new from the Senate prez, appeared to catch O’Malley off guard. He hesitated, struggling to find the proper response: ‘‘Fear the turtle.”

Even one-party rule has its speed bumps.

— Alan Brody

Maryland’s New Hampshire?

Looks like George Edwards isn’t the only politically popular Edwards in Western Maryland.

Local Dems overwhelmingly favored John Edwards in a straw poll of Democratic presidential candidates conducted Saturday at the third annual Western Maryland Democratic Summit.

Edwards collected more votes — 51 — than the combined total of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who received 26 and 24 votes, respectively. New Mexico guv Bill Richardson got 12 votes, while Al ‘‘I haven’t decided yet” Gore appeared on eight ballots.

Other vote-getters were Wesley ‘‘Remember me?” Clark with four votes; Joe ‘‘Foot in mouth” Biden with three; Dennis ‘‘Impeach ’em” Kucinich with two; and with one each for Christopher ‘‘Didn’t you used to teach at Georgetown? No, that was my brother, Tom” Dodd and Mark ‘‘Tech guy” Warner (who said months ago that he won’t run).

What does it all mean? Well, Allegany County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Bill DuVall told us the same group nailed all the major races in Maryland last year, except for AG, and that’s because former AG Joe Curran hadn’t announced his plans yet.

‘‘We might be the New Hampshire within Maryland,” Duvall prophesized.

— Alan Brody

Back to the bench?

Charlie Barkley will relinquish the chairmanship of the Monty House delegation next year, we hear.

Brian Feldman has apparently locked up enough votes to take over the post next year. Nancy King was mining for votes, but decided to abandon her bid after Feldman reportedly won the backing of a majority of the 24 delegates.

— Alan Brody

Who’s the star?

Updating last week’s item on Josh Rales’ May 16 fundraiser for Obama, the Illinois senator may have some competition.

Invitations for the May 16 reception list Grant Hill as a special guest host. Yep, that’s NBA star Grant Hill.

But if Hill’s Orlando Magic rally from a two-games-to-none deficit in their best-of-seven playoff series against top-seeded Detroit, he may have to tend to his full-time duties on the basketball court rather than the political arena.

You’ll pay to rub shoulders with Obama and Hill. Tickets are a minimum $1,000 and go up to a suggested $2,300 per person.

One interesting side note: Grant Hill’s mother, Janet Hill, a vice president at Alexander & Associates, a Washington consulting firm, roomed in college with Obama’s Dem rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

So much for roommate loyalty.

— Alan Brody

Has it been that long?

Seems like only yesterday, but it was 11 years ago Wednesday that Elijah Cummings was sworn in to the House of Representatives. He succeeded Kweisi Mfume, who left Capitol Hill to become national NAACP president.

— Alan Brody

Babs on the move?

Could Barbara Mikulski be positioning herself for a change of scenery?

That’s the hunch of one source who thinks Babs’ move to co-chair Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign will put her in line for a Cabinet appointment or ambassadorial post if Clinton wins the White House.

Most rumors have speculated that Mikulski, who will be 74 when her term expires in 2010, will not seek re-election, which would allow Chris Van Hollen, Dutch Ruppersberger or a host of other Dems, including Martin O’Malley, to vie for her seat.

But in Maryland, the governor appoints U.S. Senate replacements until a special election can be set up. So if Mikulski were to take an administration post, O’Malley could in essence handpick his favored candidate, who would presumably have a leg up on the competition in a special election.

— Alan Brody

And in his spare time ...?

Former guv Bob Ehrlich has a new job, a new radio show, a role in the 2008 presidential race, dozens of speaking engagements and now he’s joined the board of directors of The Dunbar Cos., parent of the similarly named armored car company in Hunt Valley.

Ehrlich will help ‘‘formulate considered and objective strategies,” according to a company statement.

— Alan Brody

Agog over royalty

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip will stop in the Free State next month, flying in to Andrews AFB in Prince George’s on May 6 and out again on May 8.

The royal duo will visit NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt on May 8 to tour mission control and speak with astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Mikulski will accompany the queen to the space center, part of a six-day visit celebrating celebrate the 400th anniversary of the British settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. Aides to Martin O’Malley are trying to arrange for the governor to attend.

HRH is also scheduled to attend the Kentucky Derby and a ceremony at the White House. (Lots of interesting traffic tieups ahead, we’re betting.)

Local officials are just excited as all getout.

Justin Ross, whose district is home to the NASA center, said he hopes to attend the May 8 visit. ‘‘I’d love to meet the queen. I think she and I would have a lot in common,” he joked.

We can’t imagine.

— Alan Brodyand Justin Berger

Sweet landing

Anyone worried about Derick Berlage’s fall from grace can rest assured his parachute opened and he landed softly at Venable LLP.

Berlage, 50, was chairman of MoCo’s Planning Board when the county got wrapped around the axle over building heights in Clarksburg.

As the debacle reached its height, Berlage insisted he wanted to be reappointed to the chairmanship when his term expired in 2006. A few months — and much unflattering news coverage later, he announced he would not seek re-appointment.

Berlage will work in Venable’s Rockville office as a partner in the state and local government practice group, counseling ‘‘the firm’s public and private-sector clients on complex public-private partnerships in urban redevelopment, sports⁄recreation, transportation, and other development projects.”

— Douglas Tallman

Listen up

Alvin Thornton, namesake of the Thornton Commission, was keynote speaker at the MoCo NAACP’s 32nd annual Freedom Fund Dinner on Sunday in North Bethesda.

Thornton, who gave his speech in the passionate delivery style of a minister, warned lawmakers not to enact legislation that would erase the advances made by the commission’s work.

‘‘Thornton was built on the expectations of higher responsibility from educators, parents, students. I don’t see Thornton just as funding, but as accountability,” he said. ‘‘Don’t go back. It was too hard to win.”

Throughout the speech, Thornton referred to MoCo Council Prez Marilyn Praisner, who worked with him to establish the commission, as ‘‘Sister Praisner.” And Sister Praisner didn’t disappoint. As Thornton walked down memory lane discussing the long hours and meetings that went into the commission’s work, Sister Praisner — like any good member of a church-going Amen chorus — nodded in agreement as if to say, ‘‘Tell it like it is, preacher man!”

— Janel Davis