'94 governor's race explains dizzying action on ethics bill Senate maneuvers plague House committee

April 04, 1992|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- What one piece of legislation in the State House has managed to stall a half-dozen other bills, add fuel to a bitter feud, and inspire a host of strong-arm tactics?

No, it's not the budget.

It's an ethics bill, of all things, and a local one at that. But it involves the 1994 governor's race, and that's enough to make the players take off the gloves.

The legislation, a Prince George's County ethics bill, is designed to restrict developers' political contributions in that county, where a federal investigation of zoning practices is under way.

But the bill's momentum -- it died once this week, only to be resurrected the next day -- is powered by an ongoing rivalry between Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening.

Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, has indicated he may run for governor in 1994. Mr. Miller, also a Prince George's Democrat, is keeping his options for statewide office open.

But Mr. Glendening's ambitions irk Mr. Miller. And Mr. Glendening believes the ethics bill is tailor-made to hamper his fund-raising.

Call it dog-in-the-manger. Call it Schadenfreude, but only if you're German. Or, if you're from Prince George's County, call it malicious glee at the misfortune of your enemies. Whatever you call it, the rivalry is intense and its offshoot, the ethics bill, has ended up with hostages being taken in both chambers.

The story is easiest to follow as a daily soap opera.

* Tuesday: Mr. Miller, having learned that the ethics bill was about to die in the House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, blasts Mr. Glendening from his Senate podium.

The Senate president says the county executive, who has balanced his budget assuming tax legislation will be enacted by the General Assembly, has perpetrated "chicanery" and a "fraud."

"That's not polite, is it?" Mr. Glendening responds. Meanwhile, the ethics bill dies in a House committee for lack of a majority. Del. Anne S. Perkins, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the committee, said she won't reconsider it.

* Wednesday: The ethics bill lives. Tacked onto a House bill by one of Mr. Miller's Prince George's County colleagues, it moves through the Senate in one afternoon and returns to Ms. Perkins' committee.

Meanwhile, the Senate postpones action on four of Ms. Perkins' bills and several sponsored by members of her committee. The requests to delay, or to "special order," all come from Prince George's senators.

* Thursday: More delays on Ms. Perkins' bills. Meanwhile, Ms. Perkins' committee has decided to hold up action on all Senate bills, about 20 in all.

Mr. Glendening's only comment on the machinations: "I wish they would spend as much time working on the budget."

* Friday: Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., a Dorchester Democrat who happens to have three bills in Ms. Perkins' committee, asks the Senate to move at least one of her bills so that his might go free.

The Senate agrees, although Mr. Miller can't resist this jab: "They can't be good bills if they're in that committee."

Ms. Perkins says she is a reluctant player in this game. Every year at session's end, some bill rises to unexpected importance simply because someone in power wants it passed or killed. But Ms. Perkins says she has to protect her committee members from the fallout.

"I've learned how to protect my backside, but I can't not protect my committee members' bills," said Ms. Perkins. "That ethics bill -- the type of intimidation and threats that were made on my committee members were way beyond any sort of persuasion usually brought to bear on legislation."

Will the ethics bill come out of Ms. Perkins' committee? Will any bills come out of Ms. Perkins committee? Will the senators from Prince George's County remember whose turn it is to keep the house bills from a vote?

Tune in Monday.

Today in Annapolis

10 a.m.: House and Senate convene, State House.

Committees will meet on an impromptu basis.

There are three days remaining in the regular 1992 General Assembly session.

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