Former Missouri legislator plans Arundel council race Lawyer lost House seat after '80 scandal

December 30, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Bill Burlison, a longtime U.S. representative from Missouri voted out of office in 1980 after a political scandal, is trying to work his way back into circulation in Anne Arundel County.

The 66-year-old lawyer, who lives in Odenton, sent out press releases yesterday announcing his plans to run in November against County Council Chairman Bert L. Rice.

With the announcements, the Democrat included a brochure advertising his support of "ethics in government" and showcasing photographs of himself with his wife and family.

The brochure does not mention that Burlison left his home state in 1980 after a defeat that critics said was caused by allegations in local newspapers of political favoritism and adultery.

The Southeast Missourian, the Dexter Statesman-Messenger and other papers demanded Burlison's resignation because they said he used his political connections to win a promotion for a post office employee with whom he was allegedly having an affair.

His political foes also labelled the 11-year incumbent from southeastern Missouri "Twelve-Dollar Bill" because he mailed out hundreds of $12 checks to voters shortly before his defeat.

Burlison said the checks were meant to pay for campaign work and were legal under Missouri election laws. But his opponents cried foul and printed $12 bills with his picture in their center.

In an interview yesterday, Burlison said the scandals had nothing to do with a defeat that he said was common that year among Democrats facing "the great Reagan landslide of 1980."

"There was no substance at all to that [the adultery and favoritism allegations]," Burlison said. "It was never verified and had no impact on the election at all."

He added that he would not send $12 checks to voters in Anne Arundel County if anyone here thought it might be "questionable."

This is not the first time the former Marine has tried to revive his political career since moving to Maryland in 1981.

He lost in races for the Prince George's County Council in 1982; state representative from the 33rd District in western Anne bTC Arundel County in 1986 and 1990; and Rice's 4th District seat on the Anne Arundel County Council in 1994.

But in none of the previous Anne Arundel County races has the allegations surrounding Burlison's loss in Missouri been in wide circulation, said Helen Fister, chairwoman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee.

Rice, a 60-year-old retired Army colonel and helicopter pilot, said he would not comment on his opponent's background. The Odenton Republican did not bring up the issue in 1994.

"He's a perpetual campaigner. He's run for just about everything and now he's running against me again," Rice said. "Let's get it on and talk about the issues, as far as I'm concerned."

Some of the issues Burlison is championing are "clean government" issues. He said he wants to stop "flagrant nepotism abuse" by barring county officials from hiring their spouses as employees. He said he is appalled that state legislators control college scholarships that they can give out as favors.

Burlison also said he was appalled that the county spent almost $100,000 this year hiring a Washington lobbyist -- though Burlison worked as a lobbyist in that city on behalf of the McDonnell Douglas Corp. aircraft manufacturing company in the early 1980s.

In his campaign literature, Burlison also says he favors tough "law enforcement and criminal punishment."

Part of the scandal that dogged him in Missouri involved an incident with police.

After he allegedly helped the postal employee gain a promotion, the woman called police to her St. Louis home one morning in 1978 complaining that Burlison and her estranged husband were engaged in a shoving match, according to newspaper accounts.

Her husband had rushed into the home while she was cooking breakfast and accused Burlison of having an affair with her, newspapers reported at the time.

John Blue, former editor of the Southeast Missourian of Cape Girardeau, disagreed with Burlison's opinion that the widely reported tussle had no impact on his loss.

Blue said the incident was the main reason the rural district in 1980 elected its first Republican since the 1920s.

"Bill was a good man and he had his strong followers," said Blue. "But he was indiscreet and he built up a lot of resentment because of that."

Barney Miller, former editor of the Dexter Statesman-Messenger, said that his paper called for Burlison's resignation at least six times.

Pub Date: 12/30/97

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