Lame Duck Appointments

May 19, 1993

Loyalty has its rewards. Just look at ever-loyal Del. Tyras S Athey, a quiet, obedient spear carrier for speakers of the House since in 1966. For his faithfulness, Mr. Athey, now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is being named secretary of state, a superfluous job that comes with a whopping salary of $70,000 a year.

Then look at loyal Del. Sheila Hixson, whose allegiance to House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell likely will lead to her reward as the new leader of Ways and Means. When a rump faction from her own Montgomery County tried to dump Mr. Mitchell last winter, Ms. Hixson remained by his side; when Mr. Mitchell's friend Del. John Arnick was under attack for sexism in his bid for a judgeship, Ms. Hixson led the women's caucus into an endorsement of the would-be judge, a position the group never recanted even as support for Mr. Arnick vanished.

These rewards, though, amount to lame duck appointments. Mr. Athey will be out of a job come January 1995, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer leaves office, and Ms. Hixson's fortunes will depend on who becomes speaker of the House that same month. As such, the jobs don't offer much of a challenge.

Ms. Hixson will take over Ways and Means for the last legislative session before next year's election, a time when no major tax changes are ever contemplated by lawmakers. That should make for an easy 90 days for the chairwoman-to-be.

As for Mr. Athey, his new duties are so mundane that a clerk making half his salary could perform them and still take off for a long lunch. All the secretary of state does is play chief record-keeper. He oversees charities, issues notary public commissions, receives petitions for ballot referendums, handles extradition paperwork and files reports from cemeteries on the sale of perpetual care for burial plots.

In truth, we don't need a secretary of state. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars. In a time of alleged government austerity, here's one job that could easily be abolished. But that would require legislative action and the approval of voters to remove this job from the state constitution.

We'd like to see Mr. Athey take the lead in this crusade. He has the legislative contacts to guide such a bill through the General Assembly. Let's abolish the secretary of state's job in 1995 and ++ turn the recordkeeping duties over to the lieutenant governor. That makes sense. Then Maryland would have only one superfluous high-paying job instead of two.

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