Firing offensive

February 23, 2005

IN GOLF, you don't use a driver when a 9-iron will do. The General Assembly must make such a choice in the matter of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s firings of midlevel civil servants. Does it necessitate a full-blown investigation? Certainly, the governor has - or more precisely, some faithful toadies have - reached further down into the bureaucracy than has been the norm. This is not a happy situation for an untold number of career state employees who performed their jobs ably but got ousted to accommodate the administration's political designs.

House leaders are talking about appointing a special committee with subpoena power to probe the matter. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is not so inclined. He thinks it could all backfire on Democrats. Government employment practices aren't high on the agenda of voters, many of whom may interpret an investigation as a purely partisan attack.

Indeed, lawmakers should exhaust traditional remedies first. Let the budget committees grill those responsible for the alleged abuses. Legislators should seek answers, not play grand inquisitors. The last time they invoked subpoena power (aside from internal ethics investigations) was during the savings and loan debacle two decades ago. This isn't comparable.

Meanwhile, lawmakers need to scrutinize the administration's hiring practices more closely. According to budget analysts, there's no reason why the Transportation Department needs 19 people in government and public relations, for instance. Lawmakers can start by fighting fire with fire. They don't need the big club - at least, not yet.

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