Chamber listing foes, friends

Business group plans to target lawmakers

October 20, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Heeding the governor's call to "get dangerous" and stop backing anti-business lawmakers, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is set to lobby for the defeat of as much as half of the General Assembly in 2006.

Terry F. Neimeyer, the chamber's vice chairman, said yesterday at the organization's annual retreat in Cambridge that the chamber's political action committee will endorse and give money to any legislators with a cumulative score of 80 percent or higher in rankings compiled by Maryland Business for Responsive Government.

And it will support any viable challengers to legislators who have a lifetime score below 50 percent, said Neimeyer, chairman and president of KCI Technologies Inc. of Hunt Valley.

In the most recent rankings, those lawmakers who score below 50 percent amount to 24 of Maryland's 47 state senators and 75 of 141 delegates. The hit list includes committee chairmen and other powerful incumbents. As the rankings stand now, the entire Prince George's County delegation would be targeted.

"The board's aim is to support legislators who support the business point of view," said chamber Chairman William R. Roberts. "We as businesspeople have to stop giving to everyone who runs for office."

Starting today, he said, the chamber's Web site will be updated to allow members to find the identities of their legislators and their records on issues important to the business community.

"The Maryland chamber is effective, we are influential and, with your help, we can get very dangerous," Roberts said.

In a summary of legislators' records printed after the 2004 legislative session, Maryland Business for Responsive Government listed 22 victories, mostly defeats of anti-business bills, and four losses, including the defeat of legalized slot machines and a bill limiting damages for medical malpractice.

Among the victories, the group noted the defeat of a ban on smoking in bars and of a requirement for increased wages for employees of some state contractors. It also listed the enactment of the so-called "flush tax" to pay for restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Chamber officials said their effort, although inspired by Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation, is not intended to be partisan. But the list of approved and targeted legislators takes on a partisan cast. No Democrat would qualify for the chamber's support and only one Republican, Sen. Sandra B. Schrader of Howard County, falls below 50 percent.

The group is scheduled to hear from the state's two most powerful legislators today, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch. Miller, with a 64 percent lifetime rating, appears safe, from the chamber's perspective, but Busch is closer to the borderline. He has a lifetime ranking of 57 percent, but he voted with the chamber's interests 20 percent of the time last year.

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