Thursday, July 10, 2008

How to Get Clout in Annapolis, Part Four

In Part Three, we recommended that Montgomery County’s state legislators do three things together to begin building clout in Annapolis: get organized, control the county’s campaign funding and limit new legislation. Today we finish the plan.

4. Jam the Committees

Most of the action in the state legislature happens in the committees. Prodded and spurred by leadership, the committee chairmen try to steer the Governor’s and the leaders’ priorities through their committees along with those of individual legislators and important groups. Most bills never make it out of committees. Montgomery’s legislators only chair one committee in each chamber, far less than the delegations from Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. But because of sheer numbers, Montgomery’s legislators have the most Democratic members of many of these committees. And through that membership comes power.

When the committee chair and the leaders begin polling committee members for their support on the leadership's priority bills, Montgomery’s legislators should not say yes or no. Instead, they should say something like, “I’m studying it.” “I’m talking to my colleagues about it.” “I’m undecided.” The Republicans can be counted on to oppose anything desired by the Governor or the Democratic leadership, so hesitation on the part of Montgomery’s legislators will throw the fate of more than a few bills into doubt.

This will make some of these committees very difficult for their chairs to manage. Consider the all-important Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. It has 15 members, of whom three are from Montgomery and four are Republicans. If all the Montgomery members and all the Republicans did not support a measure, Chairman Ulysses Currie would have a remaining margin of just one vote. That is awfully tight.

Consider the House Judiciary Committee. It has 22 members, of whom five are from Montgomery and six are Republicans. If all of the Montgomery and Republican delegates did not support a bill, it could not pass through the committee.

Here’s how the ten standing committees of the two chambers break down:

Senate Budget and Taxation: 15 members, 3 from Montgomery, 4 Republicans. Remaining margin: 1 vote.
Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs: 9 members, 1 from Montgomery, 3 Republicans. Remaining margin: 1 vote.
Senate Finance: 11 members, 1 from Montgomery, 3 Republicans. Remaining margin: 3 votes.
Senate Judicial Proceedings: 11 members, 3 from Montgomery (including the Chair), 4 Republicans. Remaining margin: Negative 3 votes.

House Appropriations: 26 members, 4 from Montgomery, 6 Republicans. Remaining margin: 6 votes.
House Economic Matters: 23 members, 3 from Montgomery, 6 Republicans. Remaining margin: 5 votes.
House Environmental Matters: 23 members, 3 from Montgomery, 6 Republicans. Remaining margin: 5 votes.
House Health and Government Operations: 24 members, 3 from Montgomery, 7 Republicans. Remaining margin: 2 votes.
House Judiciary: 22 members, 5 from Montgomery, 6 Republicans. Remaining margin: Zero votes.
House Ways and Means: 21 members, 6 from Montgomery (including the Chair), 5 Republicans. Remaining margin: Negative 1 vote.

By sticking together, the Montgomery delegation can make many of these committees difficult (or even impossible) to control. This is a gigantic opportunity for leverage over the leadership that can only be exploited through cooperation and discipline.

5. String it Out Until the End

Everyone knows that little happens in Annapolis until the last two weeks of the general session. Consider the order of battle if the prior four steps are followed. Montgomery’s legislators have agreed on a common program to protect their county. A few rogues have strayed, been chastised, and been brought back into compliance. Prior to the session, many political contributors in the county have mysteriously slowed down their rate of giving to anti-Montgomery politicians. Montgomery’s legislators have introduced an unusually low number of bills. Few of the Governor’s and the leadership’s priorities have moved out of the committees because of a lack of support from the Montgomery delegation. And now the end of the session is approaching.

Suddenly, Big Daddy and the Governor will be ready to deal. What is Montgomery’s price? At this point, the concessions demanded by the newly-empowered Montgomery delegation could be significant: no transfer of teacher pensions, more education money, more transportation money. And they will get most of it if they stick to our plan because the Governor and the leaders will have no other choice.

Organization defeats disorganization, willpower defeats weakness and leadership defeats fecklessness. Every single time. So what are you waiting for, Montgomery legislators? It's time to take charge in Annapolis!