Don't cop out on Kopp

November 26, 2006

Post-election buzz over who gets powerful legislative committee seats and other key positions in Annapolis is an offstage exercise that usually does not interest the average voter. But a potential struggle over who will be named state treasurer has ramifications that should be brought to light.

The state treasurer's job is not glamorous, unless you think bond sales and investment strategies are sexy. Yet, as a member of the Board of Public Works, the treasurer is at times one of the most powerful people in the state. The office demands integrity, fiscal acumen and, above all else, a strong measure of independence from the partisanship that often clouds the real role of the three-member panel, as was the case too often in the last four years with the high-profile antics of fellow members Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

The treasurer is chosen jointly by the Senate and the House of Delegates, and lawmakers first elected Nancy K. Kopp in 2002. Because the House has more members than the Senate, the delegates are naturally expected to decide who is treasurer. And the House likes to have one of its own in the office, which is one of the reasons it picked Mrs. Kopp, who served as a Democratic delegate from Montgomery County for 27 years.

Mrs. Kopp has performed her duties with a firm hand and a calm demeanor. She has never forgotten that she is the voters' surrogate member on the board, even when she was the lone vote this past spring against an election-year gimmick of lowering the state property tax by two cents. That shortsighted tax cut adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the state deficit over the next four years.

There is a move afoot to push Mrs. Kopp aside when the General Assembly meets in January to elect a state treasurer. Why? Because of an unwritten "rule" that no two members on the board can be from the same county. So since Comptroller-elect Peter Franchot also is from Montgomery, the reasoning goes that Mrs. Kopp must go. But in reality there is no such rule, and if there were, it would be a remarkably foolish one. To suggest that a board member would favor his or her resident county over others is an insult to the rest of the state.

The treasurer's office is not a political plum, nor should it be a vehicle for geographic balance; the job is too important. Mrs. Kopp's experience, intelligence, temperament and her value to a board in transition are more than enough reasons to keep her in office.

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