House Republicans fault speaker on panel assignments Mitchell says he strove for a fair balance

January 08, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Delegate-elect Alfred W. Redmer Jr. thought his professional background in insurance, financial planning and banking was a perfect fit for a seat on the House Economic Matters Committee.

So did the Republican leadership in the House, which submitted Mr. Redmer's name to House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, requesting that the Baltimore County Republican be appointed to Economic Matters.

But when committee assignments were announced last month, Mr. Redmer found himself on the Environmental Matters Committee, a panel that deals with environmental and health issues and one that was not among the freshman's top three choices.

At the same time, Republican Delegate-elect J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Lower Eastern Shore farmer, wanted a seat on Environmental Matters, but found himself instead on Economic Matters, where Mr. Redmer wanted to be. But GOP leaders say they were unable to persuade the House speaker to switch the two men.

Such assignments have angered Republican leaders, who -- in a partisan attack unusual in Maryland's Democrat-dominated General Assembly -- are accusing Mr. Mitchell of running the House like a "dictatorship," ignoring their requests and refusing to meet with them or even answer their telephone calls.

Mr. Mitchell, beginning his fifth year as speaker, said yesterday that he has tried to be as fair to the Republicans as he has to any other delegates but added that he must balance his committee assignments by jurisdiction, race and gender as well as by party.

"A lot of Democrats didn't get their No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 choices all the time," he said. "I tried to be as balanced as I could."

But House Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baltimore County, said she was disappointed by the lack of cooperation she got from Mr. Mitchell this year. A third of the state's voters are now Republicans, she said, but cannot be adequately represented if the Democratic leadership does not make a good-faith effort to work with Republican leaders.

"The fundamental point is, the minority party is not another group of Democrats," she said. "We are expected to be . . . the opposition party. We can't function as an opposition party that plays the role of scrutinizing and debating if we have no control over where our members are."

Republicans have traditionally adopted a go-along, get-along working relationship with the legislature's overwhelmingly Democratic majority. Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, a former House minority leader, said the choice was between being "visible" or being "effective."

But the newest crop of House Republicans appears emboldened by their 1990 election gains, which increased Republican representation in the 141-member House from 16 members to 25. Minority Whip Robert H. Kittleman, R-Howard, said it is time the Democratic leadership realizes that a true two-party system is developing in Maryland's General Assembly.

"They ought to prepare for 1995, when I expect us not to have 25, but 35 or 40 [members]," he said. "Putting this new structure in place is going to be a little bit painful. This is just our first fight, on committee assignments, and all kinds of other ones are coming in the future."

Mr. Mitchell said he did not assign any Republicans out of fear of GOP opposition to the Democratic leadership. But Mr. Kittleman said he hopes and expects Republicans to vote more as a bloc from now on.

"We're going to have to learn to act as an entity," he said. "In the past, we were always just individuals."

"It is something blacks learned a long time ago: You're equal, but not equal; as long as you don't cause problems, they let you exist as second-class citizens," he said. "But once you have a two-party system, you have to work together. Then we can go to the speaker and say, 'You need our help.' "

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