The House of Delegates passed a $2 billion gas tax hike 78 to 56 Friday afternoon. Or did it pass 76 to 63, as we were told later, after delegates switched their votes?
It was all over but the shouting at 1:42 p.m. when the reading clerk hit the tally button on his touch screen monitor, but there was plenty of shouting by outraged Republicans.
Del. Nic Kipken, the normally mild-mannered Republican from Pasadena, was angrily waving his rule book as he demanded to know why the vote was taken so fast. With the green and red votes displayed but not yet officially counted, delegates had been standing to explain their votes, as permitted under House rules. But only Majority Leader Kumar Barve was recognized by House Speaker Michael Busch, who later insisted he had given everyone an opportunity to talk during debate.
Del. Neil Parrott, the Washington County freshman, was the only Republican recorded voting green, after he had initially voted red. He later admitted the move was designed to confuse the running tally which is only visible on a screen at the speaker’s rostrum. Others in the chamber have to try and count the green and red lights on the voting boards mounted on the walls.
Parrott got permission to change his vote, but the parliamentary protest continued, with lots of confusing cross talk. House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell demanded the vote be retaken – a motion only in order if he had been on the winning side, which he wasn’t.
“This is being rammed up our nose,” O’Donnell objected from his front row seat, perhaps politely avoiding mention of another orifice.
Parrott demanded the same reconsideration, since he had been on the prevailing side – at least before he changed his vote – but he was ruled out of order too.
Frustrated, angry and outvoted as usual, O’Donnell announced a meeting of the House Republican caucus in the lounge, 40 members marched off the floor, and the state troopers who provide security blocked the doors, apparently under orders from an aide to the speaker. (Party caucuses are not covered by the Open Meetings Act.)
The unhappy Republicans returned after several minutes, and the tension was briefly relieved by a visit from Torrey Smith of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
The speaker stood at the rostrum, unmoved by the protests and brief chaos, allowing Republicans to explain their votes on the Baltimore school construction legislation. “I do not take the call, the clerk takes the call,” Busch told the chamber after another Republican complaint about the earlier process.
Del. Johnny Wood, a 26-year veteran from St. Mary’s County and one of the 20 Democrats to vote against the gas tax hike, recalled another old timer from the past who would stand on the floor after an action he didn’t like, saying, “shame, shame, shame.”
“Shame on what’s going on in this House,” Wood said.
Asked in an interview why he thought Busch acted as he did when it seems Democrats had the votes, O’Donnell said, “To show who is the alpha dog.”