The loss of an important voice Legislature: The departure of Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, means the General Assembly might convene without an experienced on-site critic.

The Political Game

September 23, 1997|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

THE DEPARTURE soon of Deborah Povich as chief hair shirt of the Annapolis Establishment leaves a gap in the wardrobe of democracy.

As executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, Povich has been the all-purpose legislative scold, a voice of public censure when good men and women muzzle themselves in the name of career. Free of political constraints, she spoke the truth as she saw it on campaign finance excess and on a range of other related issues of ethics in government.

As the spokeswoman for an organization that calls itself a people's lobby, Povich argued that big money separates the people from their government. She sought to reduce the role of money in politics to restore confidence that those who couldn't afford a fund-raising ticket could get as much access as the men in $500 suits.

Common Cause will find a worthy replacement, no doubt, but that person will need time to reach operating speed. The General Assembly might convene in January without a sure-handed, on-site critic in areas of crucial importance.

The departure of Povich seems the more regrettable because the assembly has lately lost other important voices of protest and accountability. Sens. Julian L. Lapides of Baltimore and Gerald W. Winegrad and the late John A. Cade, both of Anne Arundel County, come to mind.

On the environment, no one was more "inflexible" and demanding than Winegrad, a Democrat who chose not to seek re-election in 1994. Some thought he was the worst sort of tree-hugging ideologue, unwilling to compromise. On occasion, of course, he may have been precisely that. He became the purist standard against which the Senate could measure its performance on issues of water quality, wetland preservation and other "green" issues. Democratic Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County has taken up his banner, though Frosh seems too reasonable for some.

Republican Jack Cade was the conscience of the Senate on matters of spending and taxing. A blusterer and intimidator, Cade never stopped demanding high performance of his colleagues and often seemed to scorn them lest they forget he was watching.

Lapides, a Democrat who was effectively forced out by redistricting in 1992, was in a class of one. A cranky and outspoken foe of stadiums built with public money and of some lobbyists, the senator from Bolton Hill reveled in one-person crusades. He was known to get off elevators if lobbyists got on. When no one else could be counted on to speak against bad bills -- or for good ones -- Lapides would. He didn't care if people said he was shrill.

The roles filled by Cade and Lapides and Winegrad will be adopted in due time. Democratic Sen. Paul G. Pinsky of Prince George's has the Lapides passion and eloquence. Many look to Cade's Republican protege, Robert R. Neall, to uphold his watchdog tradition.

In the House, Democratic Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. of Baltimore, a quieter presence, is also regarded with admiration for his insistence on ethical behavior.

The title of chief tormentor during last year's legislative session went to Democratic Del. James C. Rosapepe, also of Prince George's. Rosapepe put his financial acumen and wit at the disposal of the major county executives in search of more money for education.

Rosapepe put his body on the legislative tracks to argue for equity over power: Baltimore kids needed the $250 million they were getting, but the counties have poor kids, too, he said. He lost his argument, but at least one task force is at work now to find a more equitable distribution formula.

Sometimes it takes much longer to turn things around. Povich felt as much defeat and disappointment as victory, but the long hours she spent watching committees wrestle with her bills brought many improvements in campaign finance laws.

Many remain to be attempted by her successor and by the heirs of Lapides, Winegrad and Cade.

Chamber begins crab fest for supporters, legislators

When the Maryland Chamber of Commerce seeks support for its legislative agenda, senators and delegates often ask for proof that voters in their home districts share the chamber's concerns. So the chamber set out to stimulate the sort of grass-roots support for business that would get a legislator's attention back home.

As part of the effort, the chamber held what it hopes will be the first of many annual chamber crab fests for legislators and their resident supporters this month at Kurtz's Beach in Anne Arundel County. About 375 tickets were sold for the event, which the chamber hopes some day might rival the traditional crab festival in Crisfield.

Hey, Democratic brother -- Can you spare a PC?

Look for the Maryland Democratic Party in its new location, 188 Main St., Suite 1, in Annapolis. In announcing its move from Church Circle, the party said "donations of office items or contributions to an office fund are welcomed."

Pub Date: 9/23/97


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