March 31, 2010

Analysis: UPDATED: Speaker pulls an end run on Dwyer’s impeachment move

Print More

Leave it to the old football coach, House Speaker Michael Busch, to pull an end run on Del. Don Dwyer’s attempt to impeach Attorney General Doug Gansler, as he handed off the ball to the Judiciary Committee. The panel killed it within hours, after some more drama from Dwyer.

In the morning, twenty reporters, seven TV cameras and an unusually raucous gallery were expecting the speaker to overrule Dwyer’s long-promised motion. Then, Dwyer was expected to object strenuously, get ruled out of order and eventually get tossed out of the chamber by state troopers.

No such luck. Instead, Busch gave Dwyer plenty of running room. He did not rule the simple resolution out of order, but allowed the Anne Arundel Republican to go on at some length. Dwyer later refused to testify before the Judiciary Committee, protesting that the process Busch followed was wrong.

Dwyer explained why he believed Gansler had violated his oath to support the constitution and laws by issuing an opinion in February. In it, Gansler said that the courts here would likely recognize the validity of same-sex marriages performed out of state, even though they are prohibited here.

The assistant attorneys general who counsel the legislature have said the legislature doesn’t have the power to impeach their boss, as reported here earlier. But instead of ruling that way from the chair, Busch referred the resolution to the House Judiciary Committee, which then scheduled a Wednesday afternoon hearing on the matter.

Instead of making a martyr out of Dwyer, Busch used the usual procedures of the House to run around him – the same procedures followed in Congress for impeachments.

The Maryland Constitution does not specify how impeachments should be done, and the House of Delegates has never actually impeached anyone before. There was a lot of wrangling back and forth about the process, with arguments over House rules and procedures. Republicans made a motion to have the whole House vote on the resolution immediately.

Dwyer even tried to talk over Speaker Busch, who still didn’t rule him out of order, though he did eventually ask him “respectfully” to sit down. (Click to listen to the debate. It comes near the start of the session.)

The Republicans, joined by only a couple of Democrats, lost the party-line vote 39-101. To virtually everyone’s surprise, Dwyer let the vote stand.

Updated: At the Hearing

Before the hearing, Dwyer called the proceeding “a kangaroo court” and said the speaker had “obstructed justice” and “usurped the power” of the full House by sending the resolution to committee.

He refused to testify on his own resolution.

“I refuse to move forward and proceed with this charade,” Dwyer said. He tried to send the resolution back to the floor, but Democrats rejected that move.

Del. Ben Barnes, D-Prince George’s, called the impeachment attempt “baseless, factless,” and Del. Luis Simmons, D-Montgomery, said too much “disinformation” had been spread.

Simmons asked whether Gansler should be impeached just for rendering an opinion.

“The attorney general’s opinion is merely an opinion that does not have the force of law,” Simmons said. “Courts regularly disregard the opinion of the attorney general.

“If you don’t like his opinion, take it to the ballot box,” Simmons said.

Committee Democrats, joined by Republican Del. Susan McComas of Harford County, voted that there was not “sufficient grounds” to remove Gansler, and the panel ultimately rejected the full resolution.

Dwyer has promised to try to petition the resolution onto the House floor for a vote.
–Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com