State's political history rife with expulsions

January 14, 1998|By Craig Timberg and Jonathan Weisman | Craig Timberg and Jonathan Weisman,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Rafael Alvarez and research librarians Sandy Levy and Dee Lyon contributed to this article.

Maryland's often-felonious political history includes several cases of legislators automatically ejected for criminal behavior. There have also been others, like Robert Swailes, expelled without an accompanying criminal conviction:

In 1775, just as the American Revolutionary War was beginning, Francis Baker, a Talbot County legislator, lost his seat when the assembly expelled him for violating an informal prohibition against trading with the British.

During the General Assembly session of 1676, the upper and lower chambers battled over the guilt of Maj. Thomas Truman, charged with leading a brigade that murdered five Susquehannock Indians after assuring them safety. Truman was expelled but received no other punishment.

More recently, the General Assembly has removed legislators through an automatic provision -- added to the Maryland constitution in 1974 -- that expels members convicted of crimes. Others have resigned rather than face possible censure.

Michael B. Mitchell, the man who preceded state Sen. Larry Young in West Baltimore's 44th District, lost his seat in 1988 when he was sentenced for accepting $50,000 from Wedtech Corp. to obstruct a congressional investigation spearheaded by his uncle, former representative Parren J. Mitchell.

Del. Nathaniel Oaks, another Baltimore Democrat, lost his seat in 1989 for a conviction of stealing $10,000 from his campaign fund. After receiving a suspended sentence, Oaks was re-elected to the General Assembly in 1994.

Nationally, expulsions without convictions are extremely rare, said Brenda Erickson of the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. In a survey of the nation's 99 legislative chambers, only 17 reported ever expelling a member, she said.

In Maryland, political corruption peaked in the 1960s and 1970s, as scandals involved neighborhood ward bosses, legislators, county executives and even governors.

In 1973, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew -- the nation's second highest official -- resigned amid allegations of corruption stemming from his term as governor and as Baltimore County executive.

George H. Callcott, a University of Maryland historian and author of the book "Maryland and America: 1940 to 1980," notes that between 1962 and 1979, 28 indictments were handed down against Maryland elected officials.

Gov. Marvin Mandel was convicted in 1977 on charges of political corruption, but they were later overturned on appeal.

Other Maryland public officials indicted in those years included General Assembly members A. Gordon Boone, a speaker of the House convicted of mail fraud in 1964; Del. James A. (Turk) Scott Jr., murdered in 1973 before his trial on charges of heroin trafficking; and Sen. John W. Steffey, who pleaded no contest in 1975 to violating election laws.

The Larry Young case notwithstanding, historian Callcott says the current political corruption scene doesn't measure up.

"For the most part, I think it's quite past," Callcott said. "I think Maryland politics are quite clean by national standards."

Pub Date: 1/14/98

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