Buck Stops Here

May 09, 1994

For a state bureaucrat who failed to adequately justify a budget request at a hearing, Senator Charles H. "Buck" Smelser could be the "meanest man on the face of the earth," as one reporter once called him. But for a constituent seeking help on a legislative matter, Mr. Smelser couldn't be more attentive or courtly.

As a result, Mr. Smelser, who represented western Carroll, eastern Frederick and a portion of western Howard County, has enjoyed the reputation of being one of Annapolis' most admired lawmakers.

Last week, the 73-year-old Mr. Smelser announced that he would not run for an eighth Senate term, which means the General Assembly is losing one of its most principled conservative members. During his seven terms as a senator and two as a delegate, Mr. Smelser brought a fiercely independent, non-ideological, common-sense approach to government.

The Democrat was a fiscal conservative long before it was politically popular. He never worried about polls or the national ideological ebb and flow. When it came to deciding public policy, Mr. Smelser followed his conscience.

While he had a great deal of skepticism about many government programs, he was always able to support the spending that did the most good for the state. As head of the Senate Budget Committee's subcommittee on capital improvements, he made sure that it approved important projects for Maryland -- the ballpark at Camden Yards and the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center -- but quitely killed the most egregious pork.

His straight-forward manner attracted a number of unexpected political allies. Urban legislators who normally might have trouble relating to a dairy farmer legislator who represented a conservative district held him in great respect. All the governors with whom he served admired his approach.

In the back rooms, there was never doubt where Mr. Smelser stood on an issue. He didn't waste a lot of words, but would get right to the point.

His retirement means that Carroll County loses the most powerful and influential member of its delegation. The race for his seat is now wide open, but his eventual successor will have trouble following the act of Buck Smelser, partly because it was no act at all.

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