Howard delegation gets high marks Legislators rated on environment

February 11, 1993|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Staff Writer

The Maryland League of Conservation Voters gave perfect scores to two members of the Howard County legislative delegation, but flunked a third in its most recent environmental report card.

Overall, Howard legislators received good marks for their voting records during the past two sessions of the General Assembly.

"I think compared to other delegations they did very well," said Nancy Davis, who lives in Clarksville and is a member of the league's board of directors.

The league gave Republican delegates Martin G. Madden and Robert L. Flanagan 100 percent approval ratings. At the other end of the spectrum was Democratic Sen. Charles H. Smelser, one of five Maryland senators to receive a 0 percent rating.

Together, Howard's six delegates had an average rating of about 75 percent, substantially higher than the 62 percent state average.

The delegation's three senators didn't do quite so well, scoring 46.6 percent. The state average was 56 percent.

Much of the low showing among Howard County's senators was due to Mr. Smelser's goose egg. The two other senators, Democrat Thomas Yeager, District 13, and Republican Christopher J. McCabe, received 80 and 60 percent ratings, respectively.

The league primarily rated legislators according to their votes on specific environmental bills and amendments. Delegates were rated on six votes. Senators were evaluated on four votes and whether they co-sponsored a bill concerning auto emissions.

In addition to car exhaust, the selected legislation included a bill that would have favored weak state pesticide laws over tougher local regulations and an amendment that would have weakened a tree preservation bill.

In its report, the league acknowledged the limits of its own methodology.

"This voting chart . . . is only a simple test of a legislator's environmental record and does not fully reflect a legislator's overall environmental commitment," the report said.

Howard County legislators had varied reactions to their ratings.

Mr. Madden, District 13B, responded with a press release. In it, he noted that he was one of only 31 delegates and six senators to score 100 percent.

Mr. Flanagan, District 14B, downplayed his perfect rating.

"I call them as I see them," Mr. Flanagan said. "I don't keep track of what my score is from any particular group. I try not to."

Mr. Smelser, who represents District 4, did not return phone calls.

At least two Howard County legislators -- Mr. McCabe and Democratic Del. Virginia M. Thomas -- took issue with their ratings. They argued that, by only focusing on a handful of votes, the league missed their other contributions to the environment.

Ms. Thomas, who represents District 13A, thought her 83 percent score wasn't entirely fair. She said she killed at least one anti-environment bill in a committee.

"I didn't get any credit for it," Ms. Thomas said.

"Funny how they use that, isn't it?" said league board member Ms. Davis. "Everybody who doesn't score 100 percent is going to say it's an unfair comparison."

Ms. Davis added that Ms. Thomas is supportive of environmental issues on the House floor. Prior to this year, Ms. Thomas received two perfect ratings from the league.

Mr. McCabe, who represents District 14, said one of his pro-environment votes fell through a similar crack in the league's rating system.

Mr. McCabe was penalized for voting against an amendment that would have weakened an anti-environment bill. But what the league's voting chart doesn't show is that Mr. McCabe voted against the bill anyway.

"I think he's a stronger environmentalist than his score reflects," Ms. Davis said. Ms. Davis said the league has to limit the number of votes it uses in the rating system, because some votes are just a product of internal politics.

They "don't really reflect what happened," she said.

The remaining Howard County delegation members, all of whom are Republicans, posted scores up and down the chart.

Del. John Morgan, District 13B, received an 83 percent rating. Del. Robert H. Kittleman, District 14B, received a score of 50 percent. And Del. Donald Elliott, who represents District 4B, received a score of 33 percent.

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