Part-time lawmakers switch into full campaign mode

By Len Lazarick

For most purposes, the work of this term of the Maryland General Assembly wrapped up Thursday with the final bill signing before the election. “This is the end of a four-year term,” said House Speaker Michael Busch.

For any elected official with ambition – perhaps a redundancy – the next election is never totally out of mind. But with the last legislation signed into law and the official photographs to prove it, most lawmakers are now focused on the Sept. 14 primary and Nov. 2 general election.

Busch, for instance, with his ticket mates, “officially” announces today his long planned re-election bid. Unlike other Democrats in safer seats, Busch represents a closely divided three-delegate Annapolis district and has to earn his re-election. Even as the top vote-getter, the speaker he came in just 668 votes ahead of Republican Ron George who ran third and beat a Democrat on Busch’s ticket by just 53 votes.

There is at least is no distracting special session of the legislature on the horizon as there was in 2006 on the contentious issue of electricity rates.

An election year is when the Maryland legislature really lives up to its part-time status. So far, there are no hearings scheduled for the interim – not unusual just after session ends.  Senate Majority Leader Ed Kasemeyer said weeks ago that the special workgroup he co-chairs on state funding for counties and municipalities – likely to be an even hotter topic next session than what it was this year – would not be active. “We’re not sure that there is going be to anything for us to do,” Kasemeyer said. “There’s nothing on our agenda.”

Many of the delegates and senators at Thursday’s bill signing were already in heavy campaign mode, spending their days on the phone raising contributions they could not accept when they were in session. Lobbyist Bruce Bereano, unofficial social secretary of the fundraising circuit, lists 52 events for Assembly incumbents through June – and he doesn’t include challengers.

Some expecting re-election may be focusing on drafting bills to pre-file for next year, something they’re still entitled to do. But at a Howard County Chamber of Commerce breakfast for a legislative wrap-up last month, Del. Jimmy Malone from Halethorpe answered with disarming frankness when asked what his priorities were for next session.

“My number one priority right now is to get re-elected,” Malone said. He is hardly alone.

The next few weeks also are opportunity for incumbents to assess their lives if not their re-election prospects, and walk away from the legislature under their own power, as nine have done so far. The filing deadline is six weeks from today on July 6.

As of Thursday, only half the incumbent senators – 24 out of 47 — had formally filed their candidacy with the state elections board, and a little more than a third of the delegates, 54 out of 141.

According to figures compiled by the legislative staff (p. 61), one quarter to a third of the General Assembly usually doesn’t return by the their own choice or the voters’. A higher percentage don’t come back after legislative lines are redrawn after the census, though the turnover rate in general is lower than it was 20 and 30 years ago.

HOLIDAY: Most state government workers get a four-day Memorial Day weekend coming up, but less money to spend on it. The state is closed for business Friday as part of its “cost containment” furlough program, which is essentially a continuing pay cut for state workers. That includes the offices of the Motor Vehicle Administration, the emissions inspections stations and scores of other agencies serving the public.

State employees also get an extra holiday this year, Nov. 2, for the general election.

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