Tough times cast a pall on Assembly's opening day

January 10, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun John W. Frece, Peter Jensen and M. Dion Thompson of The Sun's Annapolis Bureau contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- As if the memory of voter outrage were not sufficient to focus their thoughts, Maryland legislators were sworn in yesterday under a pall of recession, a threat of war in the Middle East and the prospect of yet another abortion fight.

"It's probably the gloomiest opening day I can remember," said Delegate James W. Campbell, D-Baltimore, a 13-year veteran of opening days.

The new General Assembly heard Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, appeal for patience, flexibility and togetherness as the Assembly attempts to deal with severe budget problems that could force layoffs and the loss of important government services.

Newcomers -- sent by voters thought to be unhappy about high taxes and declining quality of life -- seemed likely to alter the character of the two houses. The new Assembly convened with a expanded and more feisty contingent of Republicans -- up from 16 to 25 in the House and up from seven to nine in the Senate. In all, there are nine new senators and 35 new delegates.

An unknown number of new lobbyists were on hand as well. One of them, Joel Rozner, hit the ground talking.

"See me," he said, gently mocking his new profession, "I'm not on my knees. I haven't groveled yet."

A veteran political campaign organizer and a member of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee, Mr. Rozner recently left his post as top political adviser to Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening. Now a partner in the politically well-connected lobbying firm of Rifkin, Evans, Silver and Rozner, he will handle issues ranging from regulation of prescription drugs to regulation of pipelines.

"The newest gunslinger," said Sen. Albert R. Wynn, D-Prince George's, as he introduced Mr. Rozner to Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.

Dressed in the appropriate pin stripe suit and a blue paisley tie, Mr. Rozner joins a group of increasingly wealthy and influential men and women who raise money for candidates, wine and dine in search of votes for their clients' bills -- and who are targeted, yet again, by reformers.

House Speaker Mitchell, who has single-handedly killed campaign finance reform legislation in recent years, said yesterday that he will join Senate President Miller in the reform movement this year because he is convinced voters want more accountability.

"We're going to make sure special interests don't run this place," Mr. Miller said. "The Senate and the House have been hurt perceptionally by these revelations of lobbyists spending money gifts . . . spending money on legislators."

Phil Andrews, the lobbyist for Common Cause, said he believes that prospects for reform are better this year because the Assembly leadership "seems to recognize it's an issue that has to be addressed."

What is needed at a minimum, he said, is "a reasonable limit" on contributions by political action committees -- not more than $4,000 per four-year election cycle for Assembly candidates -- and taking lobbyists out of the fund-raising process.

Newcomer Rozner said he has no problem with any of the reform notions he has heard discussed. "I think the integrity of the system is more important than anything," he said.

The most politically active member of the lobbying corps, Bruce C. Bereano, was not on hand yesterday and declined to comment on the reform movement until the proposals are formalized. In the past, he has opposed and helped to defeat reform proposals.

As usual on opening day, Mr. Bereano sent flowers to every woman in the State House complex. Total cost: about $3,000, he said.

A lobbyist for the tobacco industry, he sent cigars to those who smoke them. He sent peanut butter and cashews to Sen. John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel; orange juice (homemade, "with the bits and pieces") to Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore; and something called "pickled pimiento meat" for Sen. Walter A. Baker, D-Cecil.

With what Mr. Bereano called his "gestures of happiness," the legislators seemed to enjoy a day of applause and embraces from family and friends despite the grim backdrop for their convening.

Delegate Ethel A. Murray, D-Cecil, held her granddaughter, Lauren MacKenzie, in her lap.

Frank and Frances Miedusiewski sat together in the Senate gallery to watch their son, American Joe. They had planned to walk into the State House as a family, but the couple lost sight of their son when they went looking for a parking space.

"He belongs to us," said a proud Mrs. Miedusiewski once she reached the spectator's gallery. "He knows we're here."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- who will be sworn in for a second term Jan. 16 -- visited a reception at the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and stayed for less than a minute -- not enough time to nibble at an array of delicacies that included oysters on the half shell, cold cuts, cheesecake and Chablis on tap.

"We sent him an invitation to stop by, and I guess he stopped by," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke worked the crowds, pursuing support for a tax commission's appeal for tax increases that would send hundreds of millions of dollars to his distressed city. Mr. Schmoke spoke positively about a proposal that most give little hope this year.

At a midmorning news conference on abortion -- before the Assembly had convened officially -- supporters of abortion rights said they were giving all members of the Assembly copies of U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade becauses they want "a clear codification" of that decision in Maryland law.

As if all the other elements of concern were not enough, House Speaker Mitchell was reminded of personal concerns as well when, during a news conference, he was interrupted by a former U.S. senator, Joseph D. Tydings.

"I want to tell you, keep your chin up," Mr. Tydings said to the speaker, who has been under investigation by the state special prosecutor's office. "I am primarily in litigation. Let me know if I can help."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.