Lack of Courage in Annapolis

March 26, 1992

John F. Kennedy, in his Pulitizer-Prize-winning book, "Profiles in Courage," gave three reasons why it is so difficult for elected officials to be courageous. First, all politicians want to be liked. Second, politicians want to get reelected. And third, interest groups exert enormous pressure on legislators to get their way. Ignoring all these factors is often difficult for lawmakers.

It certainly was in Annapolis over the past two weeks. A surprising number of legislators, especially from Baltimore County, caved in on all three counts and voted against a package of new taxes to keep state and local governments from running aground. It was more important for them to be popular, to get reelected and to please the anti-tax crowd than to speak out in favor of a balanced tax and spending-cut package.

Those elected to the General Assembly have an obligation to do what is best for the state of Maryland. That includes occasionally taking an unpopular stand, regardless of the personal political implications, for the good of the state and of the local jurisdictions. Enough lawmakers understood that obligation to support House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Tuesday night in approving, by a narrow margin, a big tax package. A majority of senators had also acted responsibly the week before in approving their own tax plan.

But there were few heroes in Baltimore County, where elected officials seem more concerned about placating the anti-tax zealots -- and keeping their jobs for as long as possible -- than in giving the county a helping hand. Only four county legislators were brave enough to take on the mob and to act with "grace under pressure": Sen. Janice Piccinini and Delegates Leon Albin, Leslie Hutchinson and Michael Weir.

It takes moxie to stand up and be counted when you know it could endanger your reelection chances. We congratulate these legislators for performing their duties so admirably. They deserve our thanks.

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