Ethics blind in Annapolis Curran resigns: As delegate departs, new controversy swirls around House speaker.

March 03, 1998

YOU CAN'T BLAME state lawmakers for hunkering down as nasty ethics controversies wound and eliminate some of their colleagues. Who will be next? When will it end?

Last week, Gerald J. Curran resigned as a Democratic delegate from Northeast Baltimore rather than face an inquiry into potentially lucrative insurance contracts he helped arrange with state agencies. It was an ignominious end for the 32-year legislative veteran, but Mr. Curran abused his public office in his quest for big broker's fees.

Mr. Curran denied he had done anything wrong. So did Larry Young, the West Baltimore Democrat expelled in January from the Senate for securing profitable contracts from health-care groups. Both men held powerful chairmanships and were part of the General Assembly's inner circle. But they had earned their abrupt exits.

As Mr. Curran departed, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor found himself defending his actions in a state land-swap dispute in which the influential Western Maryland Democrat interceded on behalf of a close friend. The state may have lost money in this transaction, in which the appraiser said he felt pressured by Mr. Taylor to come forth with figures favorable to the speaker's friend, according to the Washington Post.

Mr. Taylor says he did nothing wrong. He did not benefit from his brief intercession. Did he unfairly use his high office to exert pressure to help his friend in this coal-mining land swap? That's a question worthy of consideration by the legislature's ethics committee. Sadly, Mr. Taylor was able to squelch such an inquiry by refusing to let the panel examine this controversy.

That was a mistake. How can the ethics committee gain credibility among rank-and-file members of the legislature when the top House leader refuses to let the panel look at his actions?

If Mr. Taylor has nothing to hide, he should ask the ethics committee to examine this Garrett County land swap and issue a ruling on the propriety of his actions. That would be good for the legislative system -- and for Mr. Taylor. It's always better to clear the air than to let suspicions fester.

Lawmakers need sensitivity training. Mr. Taylor seems surprisingly naive about the best way to handle ethics inquiries that hit close to home. And his colleagues' stubborn refusal to acknowledge that Mr. Curran had gone beyond proper bounds in trying to enrich himself shows that Maryland legislators are, indeed, blind to what's obvious to the general public.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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