Kamikazes of virtue plan their winter campaign

January 14, 1996|By Barry Rascovar

ARE LEGISLATORS from Montgomery County finally going to figure out how the game is played in the State House? Or is this group of upscale lawmakers from the state's most affluent jurisdiction going to use this General Assembly session as a launching pad for one more kamikaze attack that ends up hurting their own county?

For decades, the Montgomery delegation has been ridiculed by seasoned pols as too high-minded and idealistic to be effective in Annapolis. And the pols were right. Over the years this is a group that, too many times to count, has fallen on its sword to defend a principle. The pragmatists in the delegation are looked upon as odd-balls and sell-outs.

The current mantra from the Montgomery group is that the county doesn't get its fair share. It's an old refrain, usually in response to some project headed Baltimore's way.

Schools over stadium

This time, it's the football stadium. Not only do Montgomery lawmakers want to kill the stadium deal with Art Modell, they want to grab the money and shovel it into schools in their home county.

Now a case can be made against the stadium project -- though the argument suffers mightily from the fact that the law has been on the books eight years and never altered or revoked by legislators in all that time.

But to then argue that this money should be used for the betterment of the state's richest jurisdiction (instead of being returned to impoverished Baltimore for some other worthy undertaking) is a leap in logic.

If the Montgomery types succeed in killing the stadium, there's no guarantee the money will flow into their county. In fact, it's almost a given that if the stadium plans fail, Montgomery will feel the retribution in drastically reduced aid.

That's only human nature in the political arena: You kill my pet project, I'll get even by going after your top priority.

The worst part is that such a move by the Montgomery politicians, if successful, would surely trigger a bitter regional war in the legislature. Even failure to kill the stadium deal would likely trigger revenge measures. The biggest losers: Montgomery lawmakers. Their effectiveness in Annapolis would evaporate, along with local aid for schools, roads and convention centers.

A sensible way out

Of course, there's always the chance that a majority of county lawmakers will eventually come to their senses and recognize that there's a sensible way out of this bind: compromise.

Yes, compromise is a dirty word these days in the part of the state nearest to Newt Gingrich's Washington. But in the political process, ideology and principle sometimes have to give way to feasibility and pragmatism. You can't always get 100 percent of what you want. Indeed, our political system is structured to encourage compromise and give-and-take.

Maryland's General Assembly is a melange of competing interests. There are distinctly different regions -- in the east, in the west, to the south, near Baltimore, near Washington. To make laws in a legislature of 188 members, you have to be willing to understand the different desires and aspirations of these competing interests and to seek a sensible middle ground.

On the stadium issue, it may be a revised financing package more acceptable to lawmakers. And for the Montgomery delegation, this could well be coupled with some $70 million in funds for building new schools, a convention center and roads.

Now that would be viewed as a win by most common-sense politicians -- a modified stadium plan that saves the state some money and a fat package of local aid to wave before the home folks.

But to the highly principled Montgomerys, that may not be good enough. All or nothing may still be their attitude. To them, a Pyrrhic victory still looks like a win.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

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