Young vote may be an ethics watershed for Assembly Senate tally on censure, ouster from committees, was lopsided, biracial

January 18, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith and Thomas W. Waldron | C. Fraser Smith and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The expulsion of Larry Young from the Maryland Senate last week may have marked a watershed in the General Assembly's ethical consciousness.

A sharp racial division in the vote to expel Young obscured unanimous disgust among blacks and whites at his infractions -- as expressed in the vote to censure him that immediately followed the expulsion.

On that resolution, all 47 senators, save Young, voted yes.

Similarly, not one senator objected earlier in the week when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller stripped Young of his committee chairmanships and moved to deny him membership on any Senate panel.

Those unprecedented actions -- amounting to internal expulsion, even if Young had not been kicked out of the Senate -- came as black senators were privately urging Young to resign before he could be expelled.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, called the expulsion a landmark in the Assembly's approach to ethical misbehavior.

"I think that people are very, very sensitized by this," said Montague, a black Baltimore Democrat.

"If the public has the perception that this goes on all the time in Annapolis, at least they know when it's brought to the attention of the General Assembly, we have the will to deal with it."

Political, racial realities

That will was demonstrated after painful consideration in many cases -- including weighing the political consequences of the expulsion later this year.

Moments after Friday's vote, Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a Baltimore Democrat who was the Senate's first black committee chairman, seemed emotionally exhausted by his private deliberations on the fate of a colleague who had been one of his proteges.

Black senators, Blount said, had no choice politically but to vote against expelling Young -- if they wished to retain their seats.

"That's the way you have to go, if you're going to run again in 1998," he said. "Any candidate running against an incumbent black senator could [win] on this issue. It's real."

For similar reasons, Blount thought, all but two of the Senate's 38 white members voted for expulsion.

A single holdout

The only senator who risked the outrage of sympathetic black constituents was Sen. Delores G. Kelley, who abstained -- a position that seemed tantamount to favoring expulsion.

A black Democrat who represents parts of Baltimore and Baltimore County, Kelley lashed out at Young on the floor of the Senate on Friday for taking thousands of dollars in fees from predominantly black Coppin State College, where she has been a teacher.

The ethics panel found that Young had done little work to earn the money he collected.

Blount's political point was proved almost immediately.

Julius Henson, a campaign adviser for Kelley's expected opponent in the November election, Robert Dashiell, called reporters Friday to highlight Kelley's abstention.

"It's got to be a campaign issue," Henson said.

The spotlight also may remain on Miller, whose handling of the matter has been criticized in two seemingly contradictory ways: for being too slow to act in the Young matter in the first place and then too quick to expel him.

Miller had some indication of Young's alleged offenses last summer but did nothing to investigate, although Miller has said he saw no evidence of ethical impropriety.

After Young's actions were exposed by The Sun and the ethics panel, Miller responded with startling alacrity -- seeking resolution before the Assembly convened Wednesday.

Election year issue

"It's very clear that he kept his eye on the prize in this issue," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a black legislator who has clashed with Miller on other issues.

"The prize was not to burden the Senate on this issue in an election year, when there were many complex pieces of legislation before the General Assembly."

The Baltimore Democrat did not favor expulsion, but he supported the censure recommendation.

In defending the pace he set, Miller said last week that while the rules of procedure in such matters were untested in Maryland, precedent at the national level has held that a legislative body has wide latitude to discipline its members.

But now, having acting so swiftly and firmly, some legislators said they may be in a new era in terms of their self-policing.

"To me it means that the system can work even in difficult circumstances," Montague said.

The Assembly has passed laws in recent years to tighten its campaign fund-raising rules, but its ethics committee report on Young urged leaders of the two houses to make a thorough review of ethics laws and guidelines.

That may not be easy.

"A part-time legislature has to devise rules to protect the public," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman of Baltimore, "but it also has to protect the legislators so they can go on making a living."

For many legislators, there wasn't much ambiguity in the Young case, though. "That stuff was way over the line," said Hoffman, who is a Democrat.

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