Chamber of Commerce discussion turns heated


CAMBRIDGE -- A panel discussion at yesterday's Chamber of Commerce convention turned into a heated argument, with a leading legislator saying the business group's new criteria for political endorsements would exclude all African-American lawmakers.

Heeding Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s call for the business community to "get dangerous" in its dealings with legislators who don't back its agenda, the chamber decided last year that its political action committee would use the rankings of another nonpartisan group, Maryland Business for Responsive Government, to decide which lawmakers to support and which to oppose in the 2006 election.

Those whose voting records score 80 or better on MBRG's 100-point scale, based on their legislative votes on business issues, would get the chamber's support. The chamber would take no position in races in which the incumbent has a score of 50-79 and would actively work against those legislators with scores below 50.

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch, participating in a panel discussion at the convention, said yesterday that the group's criteria would mean the chamber will support no African-American legislators next year, because none scored above 79.

MBRG Executive Director Robert O.C. "Rocky" Worcester, who was in the audience, reacted angrily to Busch's statements. The scores are based on legislators' voting records and have nothing to do with their race, he said.

"Two hundred people here just heard what you said," Worcester said. "I think they can connect the dots."

Busch went on to suggest that rather than using a blanket assessment for all legislators, the chamber should consider the politics of a lawmaker's district and judge how friendly to business he or she is by that standard.

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