November 13, 2014

Rascovar: Gone at the State House –Democratic moderates

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State House Rowe Boulevard from bridge

This column was initially published in PoliticalMaryland.com. Readers can subscribe to Barry Rascovar’s columns on that site.

By Barry Rascovar

PoliticalMaryland.com

Hardly noticed in the Nov. 4 election that saw Anthony Brown wiped out in an embarrassing avalanche of rejection was the obliteration of the Democratic Party’s moderate-conservative wing in Annapolis.

Gone is Southern Maryland Sen. Roy Dyson. Gone is half-century veteran Baltimore County Sen. Norman Stone (retirement). Gone is a Howard County fixture, Sen. Jim Robey (retirement).

Also out of luck, conservative Western Maryland Del. Kevin Kelly, moderate Western Maryland Del. John Donoghue, conservative Baltimore County Dels. Mike Weir, Jimmy Malone (retirement), Steve DeBoy (retirement) and Sonny Minnick (retirement), moderate-conservative Del. Emmett Burns of Baltimore County (retirement), Eastern Shore Committee Chairman Del. Norm Conway, Cecil County Del. David Randolph, Southern Maryland Dels. John Bohanan and Johnny Wood (retirement), Harford County Del. Mary-Dulany James, and Frederick County Del. Galen Clagett (retirement).

The Democratic Party’s fulcrum in the State House now is dangerously weighted to the strident left. The party’s center-right legislators have shrunk to a handful.

It’s tough even coming up with who you’d place in that category in the House of Delegates once you get beyond House Speaker Mike Busch.  You can count less than 10 moderates still left in the Senate, including President Mike Miller — Charles County’s Mac Middleton, Frederick’s Ron Young, Anne Arundel’s John Astle and Ed DeGrange, Ocean City’s Jim Mathias, Baltimore County’s Jim Brochin and Kathy Klausmeier.

Miller’s leverage, Busch’s problem

Miller’s problem is much less severe than Busch’s.

The smaller Senate chamber gives the Senate president extensive leverage to impose moderation on Democrats. Senators there know that if you’re picked for a leadership slot, you’d better follow Miller’s cautious lead.

But in the 141-member House, riding herd on an overwhelmingly liberal Democratic Caucus could prove Mission Impossible.

Simply finding a leadership group willing to move toward the middle might be a challenge for Busch.

Even more daunting may be convincing leftist Democrats to cooperate with the new conservative governor, Republican Larry Hogan Jr.

War talk on the left

Already some of the left-wingers are talking ominously about fighting a partisan war rather than smoking a peace pipe with Hogan.

Busch and Miller don’t want a repeat of the dreadful gridlock and bitterness of the Ehrlich years. Neither does Hogan, who lived through that frustrating era as the governor’s appointments secretary.

But what will the two sides compromise on? And will their disagreements wind up poisoning the well of cooperation?

This will be the focus of attention as Hogan starts putting his administration together and formulates a brief agenda for the legislative session that starts in just two months.

Room for Agreement

Busch and Miller signaled in the last General Assembly session their agreement with Hogan that the O’Malley administration had neglected business development. Maryland must become more accommodating to companies. That’s a clear area where partial agreement is possible.

Ironically, Republican gains in the General Assembly could make it more difficult for Hogan to govern effectively.

The dearth of moderate-conservative Democrats in the State House robs him of potential allies. He still needs lots of Democratic votes to pass his agenda. Dealing with an ultra-liberal Democratic corps of lawmakers could prove perilous. It could force the governor-elect to take a go-slow approach in his reform plans.

Many of the newly elected Democrats may choose to join Miller and Busch in playing centrist politics with Hogan. After all, it is the best way to get things done and avoid the thing voters most detest — gridlock.

Yet without a counter-balancing Democratic center-right wing, the party caucuses in Annapolis could keep moving farther and farther to the left, ceding the center that voters admire to Hogan.

That would be foolish politics — but it could happen.

Barry Rascovar can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

  • KAS

    Oh yes, watch out for those dangerous, strident lefties! Pretty soon they’ll have us all singing the Internacionale and reading from Mao’s Red Book! They’re going to replace our state’s Fort McHenry license plates with plates featuring Barack Hussein Obummer’s face! They’re going to let children marry goats! They’re going to put a tax on breathing! They’re going to try to raise the minimum wage! We’re headed for a dystopia, I tells ya!

  • Giles Goat Boy

    Are you biased against goats?

  • ksteve

    What you see as a bad thing, I see as a good thing. I think it’s good that right-wing Democrats are going and that the remaining Democrats in the General Assembly are more cohesive and organized to resist whatever conservative plans the new governor may have and to push for their own views. This is not being “strident.” It’s being sensible in a political game that is not bean-bag. You may trust Larry Hogan to be a nice moderate guy as governor. I want to see it happening before compromising to whatever he may have in mind. (Do you also want President Obama to roll over and immediately compromise with the new Republican-controlled Congress? If not, why should Annapolis Democrats do the same with regard to whatever plans Larry Hogan may have?)

    Beyond that, being familiar with their voting records, I differ with some of your characterizations of outgoing Democrats. Delegate John Donoghue of western Maryland may be a moderate on economic issues, but he’s a conservative and a “right-to-lifer” on social issues. Delegate Emmett Burns of Baltimore County can best be remembered as among the most vocal opponents of gay rights in the legislature. Judging from the way he generally voted, Delegate Johnny Wood of southern Maryland might as well have been a Republican. Senator Norman Stone’s long ago opposition to repealing Maryland’s anti-miscegenation law should not go without mention. For me, these and most of the others on your list that will depart from Annapolis will not be missed.

  • The Democratic Party’s “center-right legislators have shrunk to a handful,” writes Barry Rascovar.
    The Republican Party faces a similar problem.

    None of the three GOP legislators who voted for marriage equality is returning to Annapolis. Two were elected to local office, Senator Alan Kittleman and Delegate Wade Kach; Del. Robert Costa has retired.

    Five years ago, I introduced legislation listing the family members who are allowed to remove a deceased’s remains from a burial site and reinter them elsewhere. An amendment to remove domestic partners from that list was supported by 32 Republicans. Only two voted against it.

    Twelve Republican members voted in 1991 for the choice legislation that the voters approved on referendum, 68-32%.

    For nearly 40 years, compromise language has authorized Medicaid funding of abortions because of a woman’s mental health. An amendment to strip that language received 48 votes in the House. All but six of the 48 were Republicans.

    No Republicans voted for the Firearm Safety Act of 2013.

    I tried to find out how many GOP members of the new legislature were endorsed by the NRA, but you must belong to the NRA to view its endorsements,

    As Groucho Marx would say, that’s not a club that would accept me as a member.

    Del. Sandy Rosenberg

  • Centrist Minority

    As if the Republicans have no uncompromising extremists in their party. Centrists in either party are shunned these days and compromise is a four-letter word. Tomorrow you will see a freak show from the right blasting Obama’s executive actions on immigration–because Boehner won’t even bring the issue to a vote. So who are the fanatics again Mr. Rascovar? The days of men like Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias are gone, men of reason, common sense, MATURITY and above all the ability to see the forest through the trees and find a COMPROMISE!