Enron comment brings apology

The Political Game

Remarks: After a press release on a campaign finance study compares him to Kenneth Lay, Sen. Thomas Bromwell demands a retraction.

March 12, 2002|By Howard Libit and Sarah Koenig | Howard Libit and Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

WITH HIS sharp tongue and strong personality, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell doesn't seem like one whose feelings are easily bruised. Just don't compare the Baltimore County Democrat to Kenneth L. Lay, former chairman of collapsed energy giant Enron.

That's what the Maryland Network for Clean Campaigns did last week, and it almost had disastrous consequences for legislation the group is pushing in Annapolis.

Bromwell raised questions Thursday on the Senate floor about a bill to create a study commission on the public financing of state campaigns.

"Data from the University of Maryland show that we have a campaign finance crisis in this state," said Sean Dobson of Progressive Maryland in a press release later that day. "This study commission, at no cost to taxpayers, would begin examining the crisis and possible reform options. Who -- besides Bromwell and Ken Lay -- could oppose that?"

The next morning, an aggrieved Bromwell took to the floor to read the press release aloud. "I take it as an insult. I think it impugns my integrity," Bromwell said. "This press release went to a lot of media, including my local paper. I don't deserve this."

In fact, Bromwell said, "I plan to vote for this bill. It's not worth voting against."

Bromwell demanded an apology -- and he persuaded the Senate to hold up the bill until he got one from Dobson and James Browning of Common Cause/Maryland. Dobson and Browning are co-chairmen of Maryland Network for Clean Campaigns.

That afternoon, the two met with Bromwell -- and a retraction quickly went out. "The two authors did not intend any personal offense and sincerely apologize for any taken," the press release said.

All seems to be forgiven, and the government watchdog groups say they're hopeful their bill will succeed when it comes back up tomorrow. "We're happy to have Senator Bromwell on board as a fellow reformer," Dobson said.

Branch makes plea on behalf of children

Del. Talmadge Branch is not known in the House of Delegates for ringing oratory, but something about the issue of child support privatization brings out his passionate side.

When Maximus Inc., the company that holds the contract to provide child support services, was criticized on the House floor last week, Branch came to the company's defense.

The Baltimore Democrat, who sponsored the bill to extend the privatization contract, gave a resounding endorsement of the company's record. He said complaints had virtually dried up since it took over the work and made a heartstring-tugging appeal for delegates to think of the children.

Branch told of how his parents split up when he was 11, leaving his mother dependent on child support checks. "It meant whether I had lunch money," he said. If the checks didn't come, he said, there was no money for school trips or church donations.

"It is about children, it is about mothers, single mothers who depend on their child support checks," he said before the House passed the bill.

Branch might have had other reasons to feel strongly about Maximus. The company is one of his largest campaign donors, having given him $1,000 by the end of October. The company's lobbyist, Bruce C. Bereano, reported in 1999 that he gave Branch $1,900 in sports tickets -- a practice that was legal at the time.

Lukewarm response for legislative bash

What's this? Lawmakers who don't want to party?

In a decision that might have shocked delegates of old, the House chairman of protocol, Del. Clarence Davis, is considering scrapping this year's dinner-dance. The event is held -- usually at a swanky hotel -- at the end of every election cycle, once every four years.

But this year interest is so wan that House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. polled his members twice last week in an effort to boost the guest list. Initially 63 people said they'd come, then 68. But Davis says throwing a party for fewer than 100 people probably isn't worth his time.

So why wouldn't delegates be eager to show off their tuxes and ball gowns? First, there was the practical problem of a mix-up about the date, initially set for Good Friday.

Then there's a subtler problem that has left some lawmakers in an unfestive mood: Redistricting means certain people who sit next to each other in the House will soon be fighting for each other's seat.

Taylor says the explanation is that delegates' dance cards are booked with too many parties. Asked if perhaps lawmakers aren't as swinging as they once were, he replied, "Oh, no. Oh God, no."

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