Pen is weapon of choice in battle for 8th District

The Political Game

Effort: Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. and Del. Mark K. Shriver hope that putting their names on high-profile bills will woo voters in this year's congressional race.

January 08, 2002|By Michael Dresser and David Nitkin | Michael Dresser and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

WHEN THE Maryland General Assembly begins its 2002 session tomorrow, a second front will open in the battle between two rivals in the wide-open race for a Montgomery County congressional seat.

Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. and Del. Mark K. Shriver, the two legislators in the race for the 8th District Democratic nomination, are putting their names on a flurry of high-profile bills they hope will resonate with Montgomery voters. Each hopes to oust Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella.

Van Hollen jumped out to an early start, filing eight bills before the session's start.

The topics appeal to a wide range of constituencies. For human services advocates, there's an expansion of health insurance and community-based services for disabled children.

For more conservative voters, there's a mandatory minimum sentence for first-degree rape and a limit on judges' power to reduce sentences in criminal cases. For clean-government types, there's a campaign finance reform bill, and for environmentalists a tax credit for pollution-cutting septic systems.

Shriver - with one bill in the hopper - hasn't been as fast to file, but he, too, plans to put his name on some headline-grabbing bills.

They include an expansion of the gun safety law and a previously defeated proposal to require fingerprinting of gun purchasers.

Shriver said he also plans bills calling for all-day kindergarten and academic programs for 4-year-olds in schools in low-income areas. And he will sponsor a state tax credit for construction of affordable housing.

There has been talk in Democratic circles of crafting separate, Montgomery-dominated districts for the two ambitious young men. But both assume they will be squaring off in a heavily Democratic district redrawn to make it difficult for Morella to hang on.

The Democratic field also includes former Clinton administration official Ira Shapiro and lawyer Deborah Vollmer, but neither has the publicity-generating platform of a legislative office.

Van Hollen said his prolific bill-filing is nothing new for him, noting that he typically has been lead sponsor on 11 to 12 bills a year.

"The only statement I'm making is that I'm not going to be slowed down at all in my legislative activities," he said.

Shriver said he has sponsored 20 to 25 bills a session in the past but will probably propose fewer this year. "It's just too overwhelming a number," he said.

Shriver and Van Hollen have the strong support of their presiding officers, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Insiders will watch to see whether Van Hollen and Shriver bills that clear their chambers develop "sponsor problems" across the hall.

"I would certainly hope that the House would consider the bills on the merits and not on the politics of the election," Van Hollen said.

One can always hope.

Irony surrounding session's House Bill 52

Each new General Assembly session seems to have its ironies. This year brings House Bill 52.

The legislation would require prospective real estate agents and brokers to complete a three-hour course in ethics as a condition of receiving their licenses. Current licensees would have to take the course before renewing.

Sponsoring the bill is Del. Tony E. Fulton, who landed in federal court in 2000 on charges that he conspired with lobbyist Gerard E. Evans to threaten the introduction of lead-paint legislation to help Evans gain paint-industry clients. The alleged payoff was a $10,000 commission Evans steered to Fulton, a real estate agent, on the lobbying firm's purchase of a building in Annapolis.

Jurors in the case deadlocked on six charges against Fulton while acquitting him of five mail fraud charges. Evans was convicted and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Prosecutors decided not to retry Fulton, and the Assembly's ethics committee decided it wanted nothing to do with the case.

Not clear in Fulton's bill is whether the ethics course would cover dealings between real estate agents and lobbyists. Fulton, a Baltimore Democrat, did not return phone calls.

Tour to bring more good wishes to Townsend

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will receive more than good wishes today when she tours the Edward A. Myerberg Northwest Senior Center and the Colonial Village Shopping Center in Baltimore. She'll also receive the formal endorsement of the state lawmakers who represent the area.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Dels. James W. Campbell, Maggie L. McIntosh and Samuel I. Rosenberg, all Democrats, say Townsend is the best choice for governor - even though she hasn't formally announced she is running. "It's a signal that we think she's the best candidate," Rosenberg said.

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