Friday, June 13, 2008

Reporter’s Notebook: Lawmakers not quite green around the gills

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It’s not easy being green. Not in Annapolis this year, anyway.

Scores drooped in this year’s League of Conservation Voters General Assembly scorecard, despite a fairly successful year for environmental priorities.

‘‘The scores are down, but collectively we are raising the bar for conservation,” LCV Executive Director Cindy Schwartz said.

Lawmakers were graded on a range of committee and floor votes on environmental bills, including the Global Warming Solutions Act, reforming the Critical Areas Act, delaying the implementation of a ban on phosphorus in dishwashing detergents, and a slew of energy conservation initiatives, among others.

The numbers tell the tale. The average score in the House fell a whopping 26 points from last year to 54 percent. In the Senate, the average score is down 10 points to 59 percent.

The plunging scores are particularly pronounced among Republicans and rural lawmakers.

Senate Republicans averaged only 12 percent this year, compared to 38 percent last year. The House GOP average declined from 50 percent to 29 percent.

Not all Republicans fared poorly, though. Steve Schuh and Wade Kach both received 80 percent marks to lead the way.

The three Eastern Shore senators — E.J. Pipkin, Rich Colburn and Lowell Stoltzfus — posted a collective score of 5 percent, a big drop from their 43 percent average last year. Western Maryland senators scored a collective 16 percent, also down significantly from last year’s 45 percent rating.

‘‘We need folks in Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore to get their acts together and start voting in the interests of their constituencies,” Schwartz said.

Scoring by district? The District 20 quartet of Jamie Raskin, Sheila Hixson, Tom Hucker and Heather Mizeur led the way with a 97.5 percent average, while the District 7 foursome of Andy Harris, Rick Impallaria, Pat McDonough and J.B. Jennings bring up the rear with a 6.5 percent mark.

Six senators and 12 delegates received perfect marks, compared to 11 senators and 49 delegates in 2007.

Still, Schwartz maintained that the scores don’t reflect less sensitivity toward environment issues, but a broader focus on green causes in Annapolis. She pointed to the high scores of the presiding officers — 90 percent for Mike Busch and 89 percent for Mike Miller — as a sign that the environment remains a priority.

Fiscal pressures have made environmental priorities a challenge for lawmakers, said 100-percenter Paul Pinsky.

‘‘Settling for mediocrity is not enough,” he said. ‘‘We want to have a threshold that’s meaningful.”

Schwartz hopes that the economy will rebound quickly so the $50 million originally earmarked for the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund — it was slashed in half during budget negotiations this year — will be restored.

A fresh face in the White House — be it Barack Obama or John McCain — will also help, she added.

— Alan Brody

On the move

Nancy Lineman gets around.

Before taking her current job as Anthony Brown’s press secretary, she held the same post with Busch, Jack Johnson and the Montgomery County Parks and Planning Department.

Now, after six months in the light guv’s office, she’s preparing for the next notch on her belt as communications director for Brenda Donald at the Department of Human Resources.

The College Park resident will make the switch in mid-July, and she’s already on message.

‘‘It’s incredibly important work, very mission-driven and more important than ever in a challenging economy,” said Lineman, who got a crash course in veterans issues and BRAC while with the state’s No. 2.

It’s the second time that Brown’s top flack has jumped ship, following Samantha Kappalman’s departure to the National Education Association in January. Deputy press secretary Mike Raia has been with the LG since day one.

— Alan Brody

Franchot MIA at BPW

No Peter Franchot, no problem for the Board of Public Works.

Maybe that explains the light agenda and swift meeting on Wednesday as the comptroller was vacationing this week at his home on Cape Cod.

Martin O’Malley, for one, was relieved to have Brown on his left instead of his oft-nemesis and BPW sparring partner.

Asked to deliver any opening remarks, Brown stated simply ‘‘I am not the comptroller today. Thank you.”

‘‘No, thank you,” a grinning O’Malley replied as the room erupted in laughter.

Don’t get used to it, governor — Franchot will be back in his usual seat at the June 25 powwow.

— Alan Brody

Condolences

Former delegate Emil Pielke, who was to be a delegate at the Republican National Convention in September, died this week of pancreatic cancer.

The 66-year-old Towson resident was a longtime GOP activist who succeeded Melissa Kelly as a representative of District 9B in January 2002. Kelly, a biology teacher, took her husband Jim Kelly’s seat in October 2001 when he accepted a Bush administration job in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Pielke, an attorney, served only one year, failing to advance out of a crowded GOP primary in District 42, his new district after the lines were redrawn.

— Alan Brody

Change of heart

What to do when you lose bids for office first as a Democrat and then as a Republican?

Former Charles County Commissioner Candice Quinn Kelly turned in her GOP membership card to return to her Democratic roots.

We wrote in May 2005 that then-GOP commissioner Kelly was barred from attending a Fourth and Fifth Districts Democratic Club of Charles County meeting with then-Mayor O’Malley because she wasn’t a card-carrying Dem.

Now that she’s changed her party affiliation, Kelly is greeted with open arms, club prez Frank Lancaster said. ‘‘The ink hadn’t dried on her affiliation change when she started rolling in,” he quipped.

Kelly ran unsuccessfully for commissioner as a Democrat in 1994, switched parties in 1996 and was appointed to the commissioner seat left vacant when Danny Mayer became a delegate in 2005.

She changed her registration after losing the 2006 election to Democrat Sam Graves because she was disturbed by the anti-gay rhetoric coming from some local Republicans. Kelly’s son, Brent, is gay.

‘‘As a mother, I could not stand shoulder to shoulder with people who said those kinds of hateful things about people who are gay,” she said.

Back as a Democrat, Kelly said she feels at home, even though she acknowledges holding conservative views on abortion and the role of government.

‘‘I am absolutely a contradiction in every respect,” she said.

That doesn’t bother her, though.

‘‘I just feel like people know me as Candice. I don’t ever feel that political tension,” she said. ‘‘These people are my friends, they’ve been my friends and acquaintances for many years.”

And, as rumors of her running for office in 2010 swirl among local political circles, it pays to be a Democrat in a county that swept nearly every Republican out of public office in 2006.

Said Lancaster: ‘‘She saw that she could not be elected as a Republican, so she came back to the fold.”

— Alan Brody

On the go in MoCo

Sen. Ben Cardin visited Rockville for lunch with the Montgomery County Council on Monday and offered a few observations about the state’s largest county.

‘‘This county is more complicated than entire states that some senators represent in the United States Senate,” he told the council.

‘‘Your job is much tougher than mine,” Cardin said. Council members are ‘‘immersed” in county politics and are always in Rockville. Cardin said he can ‘‘hide” on Capitol Hill.

‘‘This county is the richest county,” Cardin said, pausing for emphasis, ‘‘... from the point of view of activism ... which is great.”

The comment provoked laughter from council members, who did not find an observation about trying to get around the county nearly as funny.

‘‘There aren’t really any alternate routes to try to avoid traffic,” Cardin said.

To his credit, Maryland’s junior senator was not late for lunch.

— Sean R. Sedam

Nice try

The Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway and Baltimore city’s Red Line are all ‘‘critically important” to the state, Cardin told the Montgomery County Council.

Next year, all three projects will be forwarded for federal funding approval for planning and design, causing officials to worry that they could compete against each other for federal dollars.

Cardin said he views the Purple Line, a proposed 16-mile bus or light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, as a ‘‘national priority” because it will help alleviate ridership strains on Metrorail (even though it will be operated by the Maryland Transit Administration).

Using the same Metro-based logic, Council President Mike Knapp made the case that the Corridor Cities Transitway, a light rail or bus rapid transit line paralleling Interstate 270 to Germantown, should be a national priority as well because it ‘‘takes strain off the Red Line.”

— Sean R. Sedam

Reluctant zebra

Cardin said he had not heard much about the future of the Parklawn Building in Rockville, home to 3,200 jobs.

The building’s largest tenant, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, has a lease that runs through July 31, 2010.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is pushing to move the department to a 935,000-square-foot replacement lease in his district, which includes Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s counties and a portion of Anne Arundel County.

Hoyer is ‘‘taking the lead” on the issue, Cardin said, though he admitted that it could be difficult to remain above the fray.

‘‘That’s what us senators do,” he said. ‘‘We referee fights among our congressional delegation.”

— Sean R. Sedam

(Sports)man’s best friend

O’Malley doesn’t strike us as the kind of guy to don the camo and orange vest during deer season. You don’t often hear Republican lawmakers offering him kudos either.

But on Wednesday the Maryland Legislative Sportmen’s Foundation honored the governor with its Sportsmen’s Best Friend of the Year Award.

‘‘It’s a great honor to be recognized by Maryland’s original conservationists,” O’Malley said in a statement.

Sen. John Astle, Democratic co-chair of the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, cited O’Malley’s record, including efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, ‘‘a fully-funded Program Open Space, compliance with a financial commitment to the recreational fishing community, rebuilding of the Bay’s beleaguered blue crab population, promotion of fishing habitat and oyster reefs through the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, advocacy for sustainable forestry and a strengthened Critical Areas law, just to name a few.”

Del. Rick Weldon, Republican co-chair of the caucus, commended the foundation for O’Malley’s selection.

‘‘When it comes to the traditional rights of sportsmen to hunt, fish and trap, there are no partisan boundaries,” Weldon said in a statement. ‘‘We all want available open space land in which to hunt and a clean watershed in which to fish. And, in the final analysis, we’re all conservationists which need to stand together.”

Just not likely in a duck blind.

— Sean R. Sedam

Wrestling with the budget

Last week was a tough one for Sen. Nancy King.

First, a maple tree toppled onto her Montgomery Village home, taking out its chimney, as violent storms tore through the region on June 4.

Then, adding injury to insult, King tripped on a garden hose while doing post-storm cleanup, breaking her right wrist.

But that’s not necessarily the story she’s telling people about how she got the bright orange cast.

‘‘It was all that arm wrestling with Mike Miller,” said King, who was appointed to the District 39 Senate seat last year after Sen. P.J. Hogan’s resignation and immediately found herself at the center of the budget debate as a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

Makes you wonder if the Senate President’s decision to run for a 10th term had anything to do with an arm-wrestling wager with King.

— Sean R. Sedam

Let’s do it again

When Montgomery attorney Robin Ficker lost his law license last year, he was disappointed but didn’t see it as the end of the world.

In usual Ficker fashion, he took it in stride, launching into a few new activities.

He collected a few thousand signatures to put a referendum about MoCo’s charter limit on the November ballot. He got involved in the County Council campaign of Mark Fennel and did a lot of traveling.

‘‘Every cloud has a silver lining,” he said this week. ‘‘Everybody in their life has had some kind of disappointment ... some people go through a divorce, are in a traffic accident, have a child die ... all sorts of things can happen.”

And don’t forget that whole other side business.

Ficker passed the test to become a real estate broker and started Robin Realty.

‘‘I’m well-known, so people know who I am,” he said. ‘‘I’ve lived my whole life here.” As for the economy hurting the real estate business, that’s not a problem for him.

‘‘That’s a problem for my competition — I hustle,” he said.

In fact, Ficker’s been so busy that when we called to ask him whether he would apply to have his law license reinstated, he hesitated before answering, ‘‘sure, absolutely.”

The court issued an indefinite suspension but allowed Ficker to reapply for permission to practice law after one year. The anniversary was June 7.

‘‘I expect it will be [restored]. I’ve completed like 24,000 cases. That’s a lot of cases and a lot of experience.”

— Janel Davis