Where the b'hoys are: a guide to Md. politics


February 08, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

In November, 82 seats in the 188-member Maryland General Assembly turned over, and a new regime from Prince George's County ("The Sowth," as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. would say) overtook the second floor of the State House.

With that volume of personnel changing, it seems appropriate -- and instructive -- to provide a lexicon for newcomers to familiarize them with the political parlance of Maryland.

Here goes:

Arm-breaking: Lining up "the votes" persuasively, the old-fashioned way. Used to ensure leadership gets what leadership wants.

Bell-ringer: A bill or amendment proposed to the legislature to exact favors and money (as in ringing the cash register bell) from those whose interests are threatened by the legislation.

B'hoys: Originally the Irish ward heelers of the Eastern cities; later, and more generically, "political henchmen." More recently, it has referred to leaders of political organizations, factions and even clubhouses who command the muldoons.

Capital Budget: The state's annual salute to pork.

Canteen: Oasis in the State House basement where more bidness seems to be transacted than in the House and Senate chambers and hearing rooms. Specialty: chili-dogs for breakfast.

DOA: Dead on Arrival. Used to describe legislation whose time had come and gone by the time it landed.

Empty suit: An elected official or bureaucrat of little or no substance.

Furniture: A sub-species of legislator for whom the red and green lights on the vote-tally board were invented, replacing the ever-confusing "yea" and "nay."

Green Bag: Political patronage appointments made by the governor on the 40th day of the legislative session. They are delivered in the traditional green bag to the Senate, on which the Maryland Constitution confers confirmation authority. Many of the jobs this year are expected to be given, as a consolation prize, to Prince George's County employees who are not collecting pensions.

Leadership: The Senate president, speaker of the House of Delegates, their committee chairpersons and all their minions with titles.

Lieutenant Governor: A term, while referenced in the Maryland Constitution, that no one has been able to define.

Muldoon: A loyal foot soldier in a political machine with limited intellectual capabilities. Originally defined as "a straight organization man who will 'vote right' and 'stay hitched.' " Also used to describe the now-shrinking army of Election Day poll workers.

Myrmidons: Similar to muldoons, a term used to describe the zealous followers of a political boss or chieftain. Derived from the name of Achilles' sol- diers in the Trojan War.

Patronage: Your tax dollars at work to spread the wealth. These are hundreds of posts and jobs -- some paying, some not -- that are considered plums and paybacks to political favorites. They are used to shore up alliances and the governor's political power structure. Simply put, "to the victor belongs the spoils," though at times, the reality becomes "to the spoils belong the victor," to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Red-headed Eskimo: A bill that appears to be broadly worded but in fact is designed to affect -- generally to benefit -- only an individual or special interest. It is derived from the notion that a red-headed Eskimo is a rarity -- if not an impossibility -- and would stand out like a sore cliche, if you looked hard enough.

A red-headed Eskimo is similar to a "snake," another type of bill whose intent is also hidden in its language, but by definition is harmful to an individual or public interest. Snakes tend to slither from under rocks in the final days of a legislative session.

Sine Die: Latin for adjournment without recall; the last day of the 90-day legislative session.

Wake-up call: What a legislator hears after surviving a near-death experience at the polls. In the legislative session after such an election, the lawmaker is said to have found religion and swears that he has "heard the will of the people."

Walk-around money: Cash used to pay workers for a variety of services on Election Day. Since this is prohibited by state law, such money is believed by many to be as mythical as the unicorn.

White Hat: A term used to describe a "shiny bright" or good-government "goo-goo," as well as legislation sponsored by same. It is the opposite of "Black Hat."

A sine die tale involving Baltimore County Del. John S. Arnick best exemplifies both. In the early 1970s, Mr. Arnick appeared on the House floor wearing a white suit, tie, shoes and hat to work a bill -- white hat legislation -- that required additional financial disclosure by elected officials. Within the hour, he was back on the floor dressed completely in black to push a bill giving oil companies a tax break. (Both bills passed.)

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