The power of one voice and one vote in Annapolis

Neall's successful use of filibuster wins on tobacco, bargaining

April 14, 1999|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Maryland's legislature has 188 members, but important issues are often settled by just one. Consider the recent exploits of Anne Arundel County Sen. Robert R. Neall.

The veteran Republican lawmaker conducted two successful filibusters during the General Assembly session that ended at midnight Monday, frustrating Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

A master of the state budget, a gifted speaker and an able parliamentary tactician, Neall called on all of these skills to cut the governor's proposed cigarette tax increase and to defeat Glendening's effort to put 8,000 university employees under the state's new collective-bargaining law.

During the weekend, Neall led Republican and Democratic senators in an attack on the tax increase that Glendening had pegged at $1 pack. It fell eventually to 30 cents. Neall also helped win commitments from Glendening to spend millions on anti-smoking campaigns and on programs to help tobacco farmers.

Then, with only minutes left in the session Monday night, Neall blocked the governor's attempt to tack collective bargaining for 8,000 nonteaching university workers onto a bill to reform and streamline the state's university system.

Neall had been a member of the commission headed by Adm. Charles R. Larson, the retired Naval Academy superintendent, which produced the proposals. Neall also was a sponsor of the bill that he was threatening to kill.

"I wanted so very much to vote for this bill," Neall told his colleagues with about 35 minutes remaining on the last day of the 90-day session. "But at the 11th hour, the education governor turned into the collective-bargaining governor. He was willing to put this very important [Larson Commission] bill at risk.

"This amendment," the senator said, referring to the collective-bargaining provision, "shows tremendous disrespect for this body."

The pros and cons of collective bargaining, he said, had never been addressed by the Larson Commission -- and collective bargaining was not a part of the higher education bill the Senate passed during the session.

From the Senate floor, microphone in hand, he informed Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller that he would continue to talk until midnight, when the Assembly was to end, unless what he called a "killer amendment" was removed.

Miller quickly called for a cloture vote -- the parliamentary term for a vote to close off extended debate, which requires a super majority or 32 of the 47 senators. Miller's effort failed by a single vote, another example of one legislator controlling the fate of an important bill. Among those voting against cloture was Baltimore Democrat Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

The 50-year-old Neall's collegial relationship with Hoffman and other Democrats has sometimes caused him difficulties among Republicans who feel that he is not partisan enough. But, like his mentor, the late Anne Arundel Sen. John A. Cade, Neall has gone his own way -- often insisting that the process is usually more important than party.

"What we have done here," he said after the tobacco tax filibuster, "is as much a part of this chamber as the red leather chairs and red carpet."

While GOP politics might be less important to him than the business of the Assembly, that does not mean that Democrats have been warm to his approach.

"I know some of my colleagues fear him," Miller said. They are not as comfortable with filibusters, Miller said, as those who have seen minorities achieve useful adjustments in law and policy by using extended debates.

After the session's final days, Miller said, the Maryland Senate will have a better appreciation for Neall's acumen: "You have to admire his work ethic, his quickness of mind and his institutional knowledge. We're very fortunate to have a person of his abilities."

Many senators knew Neall from his days in the House of Delegates. Democratic Sen. Clarence W. Blount recalled sitting across the negotiating table from Neall for 12 years because, though he was a Republican, Neall was often named to late-session committees whose job was to reconcile positions on major bills.

Nor was Monday night the first time Neall has had a climactic moment of opposition to organized labor.

In 1984, he was a leader in the effort to reform the state's public employee and teacher pension system -- a fight to control spending demanded by Wall Street analysts who thought Maryland's largely unfunded system was out of control. Neall was on the winning side then, too, but paid a price later when he ran for Congress in 1986 against a union-backed opponent, former congressman and basketball star Tom McMillen.

A former banker who has worked for Johns Hopkins Hospital as a financial adviser, Neall did not try for Congress again. But he was elected county executive in Anne Arundel in 1990, serving one term. Many thought his moderate Republican views made him an ideal candidate for governor in majority Democratic Maryland.

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