Assessing fallout from public feud in the legislature

The Political Game

Trouble: Politicians' inability to see eye to eye, and a squabble with the state's chief judge, sink a racial profiling bill and extra judgeships.

April 18, 2000|By Gady E. Epstein | Gady E. Epstein,SUN STAFF

THE DAY AFTER the General Assembly session adjourned, Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings ran into Baltimore Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden and gave him a piece of his mind.

"I made it very clear that [his] behavior was outrageous," Rawlings said. "It was small, and it hurt me."

McFadden's response?

"It was the usual bull about how we ought to be able to get along," Rawlings said.

So it's fair to say that the feud isn't over.

A long-running but quiet dispute between Rawlings and several African-American senators grew very public and very ugly in the last week of the legislative session.

The senators derided Rawlings on the Senate floor for trying to launch a performance audit for Morgan State University. Then they decided to "send him a message" by killing his bill to crack down on racial profiling by police officers.

Now the incoming head of the legislative black caucus, Del. Talmadge Branch of Baltimore, says he needs to "unite" the African-American membership of the General Assembly.

"You have to shake it off and move on," said Branch, a leading co-sponsor of the Rawlings bill and an alleged victim of racial profiling.

Still, Branch looks back at the wreckage from the end of the session and asks, "Was it worth it?"

The Rawlings legislation was a high priority for the legislative black caucus this year. It passed the House of Delegates, and Rawlings had enough commit- ments from the conservative Judicial Proceedings Committee to get the bill to the Senate floor, where passage was expected.

But then budget talks began. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, continued efforts he began last year to force more oversight of Morgan State, which some senators saw as an affront to the historically black institution.

Ostensibly, that's what all the fighting was about, but Baltimore Del. Lisa A. Gladden, a co-sponsor of the bill, had another theory: "Men are marking their territory."

City Senators McFadden, Clarence W. Blount and Clarence M. Mitchell IV were among the ringleaders. They led an effort to kill the bill, which would have forced local police agencies to keep race-based records on traffic stops and submit them to the University of Maryland, College Park for analysis.

The idea was that the senators would work to approve a similar bill, with someone else's name on it, to take the place of Rawlings' legislation.

But that never happened.

Through it all, Mitchell was the most unrepentant, never expressing disappointment that the legislation failed. The scion of a family known for its leadership on civil rights, he argued it is unnecessary to force police to keep race-based records on traffic stops -- even as national civil rights leaders have criticized law enforcement agencies for failing to address complaints of profiling.

McFadden expressed regrets that the substitute bill failed, but he, too, downplayed the importance of racial profiling legislation and other landmark laws.

"If we passed the bill, it wouldn't change the actions of some of those people," McFadden said. "Just like the national Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act."

Blount told Gladden that it was all a "learning experience." Asked for whom this was a learning experience, she replied: "For the first black guy that's pulled over next week for racial profiling."

Bell-Assembly struggle sinks creation of judgeships

Casualty report from the sometimes ugly battle between the Assembly and the state's judiciary:

The legislature adjourned April 10 without creating the six Circuit Court judgeships requested by Maryland Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller was insistent that the bill be amended to include a District Court seat for St. Mary's County -- over Bell's objection. Angered by what he perceived to be tampering with his process for deciding how many judges are needed, Bell told legislators to kill the bill and sacrifice all the judgeships rather than add the one for St. Mary's.

So they did.

In a statement, Bell said the failure to add new judges will delay the judiciary's long-term plan for improving the Circuit Courts.

"We will have to be more ingenious and make even better use of our resources," Bell said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.