Mitchell's Folly

April 07, 1993

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. knows better. He has bTC no business pressuring the Senate to approve a bill that would benefit a friend's company. Adding to the perception that something's amiss is the fact that Mr. Mitchell's son is employed by the lobbyist pushing for the bill the House Speaker is promoting so forcefully.

Just a few days ago, it was reported that another influential legislator, Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, tried to sidetrack vital insurance reforms until the insurance commissioner took favorable action that would benefit a company represented by one of Mr. O'Reilly's friends and political allies. The spectacle of such displays of heavy-handed political favoritism explains why the public holds Maryland legislators in such low regard.

Certainly, Speaker Mitchell has a right, even a duty, to propose and support legislation he deems necessary. And there may well be considerable merit to the measure he favors, which would require motorists to have either medical insurance or extra auto insurance to cover medical bills if they are injured in an accident.

But when the leader of the House of Delegates takes the unusual step of making personal phone calls to the Senate president and the committee chairman, it raises questions about what's going on. Even more extraordinary was the appearance by Mr. Mitchell before a Senate committee to testify in favor of this bill.

His actions took place late in the legislative session, a time when the speaker has life-or-death say over Senate measures pending in the House. Surely Mr. Mitchell knows he is putting senators under enormous pressure to approve this bill, regardless of its merit, just to keep the speaker happy. That's a poor way to legislate, especially given Mr. Mitchell's personal interest in the bill.

All this gives an appearance of impropriety that damages the General Assembly's credibility. We respect Speaker Mitchell's dedication to his job and his integrity, which is why we were so surprised by this episode. Top officials have an obligation to follow high ethical standards as an example for others in government. That means avoiding even a hint of improper behavior. It's the best way to restore public trust in politicians working under the State House dome.

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