Boon or Boondoggle?

November 28, 1994

When House speaker Casper R. Taylor first conceived of a whirlwind tour of Maryland by freshmen legislators, it seemed a sure-fire winner. Until politics, Sauerbrey-style, intervened.

Now the speaker finds himself on the defensive, as some Republican supporters of defeated gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey attack the tour as a boondoggle. It's part of the new aggressiveness Republicans plan to bring to Annapolis.

They have picked a poor target. The value of the orientation tour planned by Mr. Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller far outweighs the minimal expense. The choice is between a freshman class with a broadened understanding of the concerns of all sections of Maryland versus a freshman class abysmally ignorant of regional issues.

Mr. Taylor is planning a four-and-a-half day tour of the state, starting with breakfast at Camden Yards hosted by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Gov.-elect Parris Glendening. The group (42 new legislators so far) will board a MARC train to Cumberland for the western stops, including a look at a reclaimed coal mine and a reclaimed trout stream. In Montgomery County, the freshmen will talk with CEOs of high-tech firms. On the Eastern Shore, they will tour a farm that uses migrant workers. In Baltimore, they will visit a troubled school, the port, Johns Hopkins, UMAB and -- time permitting -- the Bethlehem Steel plant.

Local governments will pick up the tab for nearly all meals. The Western Maryland sleep-over will be in a state park; the stop in College Park includes a night in a dormitory. "We're not staying in the Waldorf Astoria," Mr. Taylor noted.

We find criticism of this tour intemperate and ill-advised. The trip amounts to an extended "site visit," something that every member of the General Assembly does to gain on-the-scene familiarity. Even Mrs. Sauerbrey took numerous taxpayer-paid trips in her 16 years in the legislature to learn about programs at the source.

Republicans would be wise to take advantage of this tour so their new legislators can hit the ground running. Otherwise, they will be at a distinct disadvantage. With so many new faces in the General Assembly next year, this orientation program gives freshmen some much-needed expertise as they see for themselves what's happening around the state. It should be a worthwhile, eye-opening experience.

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