Rating process called suspect

Annual ritual assesses lawmakers' voting records

Inconsistent methods seen

Business, conservationist findings yield few surprises

Howard County

October 12, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Like many of her fellow Howard County Democrats, Del. Elizabeth Bobo ranked high on an environmental group's General Assembly scorecard but was near the bottom of the ratings of a Maryland business group.

The low business rating doesn't bother Bobo, who said she considers her 7 percent score a badge of honor.

"Being on the low end of their rating reflects what I feel is important," said Bobo, of Columbia, noting that she proudly gives out copies of the Maryland Business for Responsive Government's report to her constituents.

Meanwhile, western county Republican Dels. Warren E. Miller and Gail H. Bates - at the bottom of the environmental group's list - are at the top of the business card with 100 percent scores on 18 measures the group tracked.

"I'm happy because I'm a businessperson, being on the strong end of business," said Bates, an accountant.

The annual scorecards are a political ritual that yield few surprises. But some legislators complain that the scores are suspect because of the select handful of measures each group subjectively chooses to count.

Bates and Miller, for example, got credit from business for supporting an early version of the Ehrlich administration's flush tax to protect the Chesapeake Bay - even though they lost points with environmentalists for voting against the final bill.

The different ways the two groups counted the flush tax votes - which both supported - shows how subjective the scorecards can be.

Bates was angry that her support and co-sponsorship of an early version of the tax - the $2.50-a-month fee to cut nitrogen coming from sewage treatment plants - was not counted by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which issued the environmental scorecard. Bates and Miller voted against the final bill because of the provisions involving rural septic and well system users. Miller opposed including septic users, while Bates complained the tax collection system was unworkably vague.

"It is that kind of inconsistency that makes me question the validity of their [environmental] assessment at all," Bates said.

But both were pleased that the business group credited them with supporting the flush tax.

"All of these groups work in a vacuum. None of them are going to sit down and agree what should be on the scorecards," Miller said.

Susan Brown, director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said it counted the vote on the final bill, the one that became law, because that's the one that counts. Robert O.C. "Rocky" Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said counting the early House version was more accurate.

Worcester said his group began issuing a scorecard because "there had to be someone to enter the scene on behalf of the business community." What he termed "full adherence" to an environmentalist agenda "means the loss of jobs - maybe their jobs." If the state's environmental laws are too strict, it "drives jobs away from Maryland," Worcester said.

Although some of Howard's 11 state legislators may be at one extreme or the other, others - such as state Sens. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat, and Sandra B. Schrader, a Republican - are closer to the center on both group's ratings. Kasemeyer scored 60 percent from business and 73 percent from environmentalists. Schrader got 54 percent from business and 61 percent on the environment.

"My life is sort of in the middle. I just seem to fall there naturally," said Kasemeyer. "I'm not an extremist, it appears."

"I try to be balanced, and I vote my conscience," Schrader said.

Howard's third senator, the late Robert H. Kittleman, scored 93 percent for business and 7 percent for the environment.

Among the county's eight delegates, business scored Bates and Miller at 100 percent, and Democrats Steven J. DeBoy Sr. at 40 percent, James E. Malone Jr. at 25 percent, Frank S. Turner and Shane Pendergrass at 20 percent, Neil Quinter at 19 percent and Bobo at 7 percent.

Quinter, a Democrat and chairman of the county's eight delegates, accused Worcester of using his group's scorecard to help conservatives.

"I think it's frankly a partisan tool being used just to bolster Republicans and denigrate Democrats regardless of people's actual votes," said Quinter, who scored 100 percent with the environmental group.

Del. Shane Pendergrass, another Democrat who scored 100 percent on environmental issues but 20 percent on business, also criticized the business group.

"I think their agenda is to represent the people who are dues-paying members, and I think particularly the big companies in Maryland are the people who pay the dues," she said.

Legislators' report cards

The recent Maryland Business for Responsive Government voting report card released ratings for Howard County legislators for the 2004 General Assembly session. The legislators' environmental scores over two years were issued by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. On a scale of 0 to 100 percent, higher scores reflect agreement with the two groups' positions.

................................................................Bus. Env.

State Senators

Robert H. Kittleman (deceased) [R] 93 07

Sandra B. Schrader [R]..................... 54 61

Edward J. Kasemeyer [D]................. 60 73

Delegates

Frank S. Turner [D] ............................ 20 100

Neil F. Quinter [D] ............................... 19 100

Shane E. Pendergrass[D] ................. 20 100

Elizabeth Bobo [D] ............................. 07 100

Steven J. DeBoy Sr. [D] .................... 40 100

James E. Malone Jr. [D] ................... 25 93

Gail H. Bates [R] ................................ 100 11

Warren E. Miller [R] ........................... 100 0

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