Buck Stops Here

May 09, 1994

For a state bureaucrat who failed to justify a budget request at a hearing, Sen. 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 represents western Howard County, and half of neighboring Carroll and Frederick counties, has enjoyed the reputation as one of AnAnnapolis' 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 quietly killed the most egregious pork.

His straightforward 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. Nearly all the governors he served with 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 representation of Howard County would have ended anyway, because his Fourth District seat was shifted out of the county in the redistricting based on the 1990 U.S. Census. 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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