The Washington Post

Md. rivals turn legislativ­e session into bitter battlegrou­nd for spotlight

- BY JOHN WAGNER

Politician­s jockeying for attention are hardly unusual at the Maryland General Assembly. But in this busy election year, the oneupmansh­ip has turned the legislativ­e session into a battlegrou­nd, with candidates making many of the same pitches in hearing rooms that they do out on the trail.

One afternoon last week, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who is seeking to drop the “lieutenant” from his title, talked up his plan to expand pre-kindergart­en programs during a packed bill hearing while TV cameras rolled.

A fellow Democrat hoping to best him, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, could be found in another hearing room just up the stairs, pushing the creation of a consumer protection office for vote-rich Prince George’s County.

Both Gansler and Brown had offered testimony the day before on a bill to raise the minimum wage. And both plan to be back in the General Assembly next week to share their support for toughening domestic violence penalties.

With four Maryland statewide offices and all 188 of the state’s legislativ­e seats on the ballot this year, they are not alone in their bids to get noticed. Politics has infused policy debates on issues as varied as decriminal­izing marijuana, expanding protection­s for transgende­r people and broadening access to pre-K education.

On the campaign trail, all three major Democratic candidates for governor have rolled out plans to expand pre-K education in the coming years. But Brown man

aged to get the stage to himself on Wednesday to talk up a bill being considered by the House Ways and Means Committee that was sponsored by his current boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

During an appearance promoted by his press office, Brown acknowledg­ed to lawmakers that this year’s bill takes only a “modest” step toward his goal of providing “universal” full-day pre-K for all 4-year-olds. But Brown added: “I hope for those of us who have the privilege to be in Annapolis next year that we take a more robust next step.”

At the same hour, Gansler was testifying with Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s), who happens to be his running mate in the governor’s race as well as chairman of her county’s delegation in Annapolis. She told the Health

and Government Operations Committee that there is “a huge need” for the consumer protection office that Gansler is seeking.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (DMontgomer­y), the third major candidate for governor, has also sought to leverage the legislativ­e process to draw attention to her campaign. Last week, she wrote to Brown and Gansler (and sent copies to the media), inviting them to join her in testifying on a bill she is sponsoring to decriminal­ize marijuana. Under legislatio­n she introduced, those caught using small amounts would be subject to no more than a $100 civil fine, something akin to a traffic ticket.

Both Brown and Gansler support the idea — but neither agreed to appear alongside her.

Elbowing for attention is hardly confined to the gubernator­ial candidates. One of the opening rounds in a battle for a Senate seat representi­ng Montgomery County recently played out in a hearing room in Annapolis.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Maryland’s only openly gay senator, is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Dana Beyer, who would become the first transgende­r person to serve in the legislatur­e if elected.

During the hearing, Madaleno was championin­g a bill that would make it illegal to discrimina­te against transgende­r people in workplace hiring, housing and public accommodat­ions. Heurged his colleagues to help a group of people “live their lives as they feel they are.”

Beyer, the executive director of a transgende­r rights group, stood in the back of the room, her arms crossed, planning to testify in favor of the bill when given the opportunit­y.

After a parade of other supporters was called to testify — including Mizeur, in her capacity as a candidate for governor — Beyer was finally summoned forward.

Appearing visibly frustrated, she decided not to testify. Beyer later said that while she has been fighting for years to get such a bill passed in Annapolis, she did not want to participat­e in “political theater” — a characteri­zation Madaleno strongly disputed.

Even the introducti­on of legislatio­n has prompted charges of election-year politickin­g.

Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore) filed a bill that would make it a crime for a state or local official to direct law enforcemen­t to use resources to personally benefit them. The legislatio­n was widely assumed to be an attempt to embarrass Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-Bal- timore County), a candidate for attorney general. In 2009, Cardin orchestrat­ed a headline-grabbing marriage proposal that involved use of a Baltimore police helicopter and marine unit.

This year, Cardin’s opponents for higher office include Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Judicial Proceeding­s Committee. Gladden is the committee’s vice chairwoman.

Gladden said her bill wasn’t aimed specifical­ly at Cardin. She has agreed to hold off pushing it until after the election, however.

Asked about the bill, Cardin said he has a full legislativ­e agenda this session and added: “I don’t think that I have time to play old and tired political games.”

Several bills are being pushed by more than one candidate this year.

Both Brown and Gansler, for example, have said their priorities for the session include legislatio­n that allows judges to give tougher sentences for acts of domestic violence committed in front of a child. Brown is leading the effort to pass a bill sponsored by O’Malley for the first time this year. Gansler is backing — again — similar legislatio­n sponsored by Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery). Simmons has tried for seven years to get his bill passed.

Simmons said the administra­tion had “shown little or no interest” in his bill in past years, but he added he is “grateful” for the attention it is getting now.

“I don’t care whose bill passes, but I would like to at least be acknowledg­ed as the architect,” Simmons said.

Simmons is one of at least 10 House members running for the Senate, and he faces a highly competitiv­e Democratic primary against former Montgomery delegate Cheryl Kagan. She has actively courted women’s groups, among others, to back her candidacy. Gansler has questioned Brown’s commitment to the legislatio­n, saying his involvemen­t this year appeared to be an attempt to “embellish his credential­s.”

“But his presence is certainly welcome,” Gansler added.

Brown said he has been heavily involved in legislatio­n to combat domestic violence since the 2008 murder of a cousin by her estranged boyfriend. Each year since then, Brown said, he has consulted with advocates against domestic violence on how he could be most helpful. This session, they pointed him to this bill, he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States