Monday, July 07, 2008

How to Get Clout in Annapolis, Part One

Montgomery County Council President Mike Knapp, during the council’s recent budget debate:

Montgomery County is “the state’s piggy bank.”
Senator Rona Kramer (D-14), commenting on Governor O’Malley’s broken promise on Montgomery school construction funding:

“I think he's not sensitive to the needs of Montgomery County, and that he's taking the county for granted.”
Gazette columnist Blair Lee:

“The problem is: once a chump, always a chump. Lawmakers who sell out are promoted but never respected. That’s why it was so easy this week for Governor O’Malley to break his promise to give MoCo $55 million of school construction aid in exchange for MoCo’s special session tax and slots votes. Instead, we’re only getting $46.3 million. Can you imagine O’Malley ripping off PG County or Baltimore city that way?

Until MoCo stands up on its hind legs, it will always be shortchanged, double-crossed and pushed around in Annapolis.”
Unnamed Montgomery County politician:

“Our guys are pathetic. Every year they go to Annapolis and every year we get jacksh*t!”
And so it goes. I hear some version of this from nearly everyone outside of the county’s statehouse delegation (and even a softer variant from a couple legislators themselves). The common assessment is that the county’s state legislators are, for the most part, intelligent and progressive but insufficiently parochial. They may get occasional wins on a few liberal priorities, but Baltimore City gets huge amounts of state subsidies and the Prince George’s delegation received a state bailout of their hospital. In the meantime, Montgomery taxpayers get 15 cents back in aid for every dollar they pay in taxes, less than half the state average of 35 cents.

It does not have to be this way. I have met most of our state legislators. Almost all are extremely bright. In fact, no other delegation from any other part of the state can match our people in sheer braininess. Many of our legislators have experience in the federal government as staffers or lobbyists. Many are experts in their policy areas. While the delegation is handicapped by a lack of seniority, the younger legislators are clever and ambitious. And they have the advantage of numbers: Montgomery’s legislators account for 8 of 34 Democratic Senators (24%) and 24 of 104 Democratic Delegates (23%), the biggest bloc in the state. Our legislators have the makings of a great fighting unit for the interests of Montgomery County residents. But first they have a bit of work to do. We’ll get started in Part Two.