Bill would expedite filling Wynn's seat

O'Malley wants to call special general election without holding another primary

April 03, 2008|By Bradley Olson and Matthew Hay Brown | Bradley Olson and Matthew Hay Brown,Sun reporters

Gov. Martin O'Malley is working with state lawmakers to pass emergency legislation that would allow him to call a special general election to replace Rep. Albert R. Wynn, the Prince George's County Democrat who is leaving Congress in June to join a Washington lobbying firm.

O'Malley wants to skip the special primary election now required under Maryland law and go straight to a general election to get the seat filled before Congress concludes its business for the year.

With the 4th Congressional District leading the state in housing foreclosures, and service members from the region "coming back from Iraq in body bags," O'Malley said, constituents should not go unrepresented in Washington.

"That wouldn't be right," he said.

Wynn, an eight-term incumbent, announced last week that he would be leaving Congress in June after his defeat in the bitterly contested Democratic primary two months ago.

Donna Edwards, the Prince George's County activist who beat Wynn in her second try, is heavily favored to win the general election in November in the liberal district that includes parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

A victory in a special election held before then would allow Edwards to take Wynn's seat before the freshman class to be elected in November, giving her an edge in seniority, the system that helps to guide committee assignments.

An Edwards campaign spokesman declined to say yesterday whether she would compete in a special election.

"It's my understanding that no official decision has been made," spokesman Dan Weber said. "We will move forward with whatever course of action the governor decides on."

Republican nominee Peter James could not be reached for comment.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 4th District by more than 5-to-1.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, who campaigned for Wynn during the primary election campaign, said this week that he wants to see the voters of the 4th District "represented fully as soon as possible" -- but added that the legislative calendar could pose a challenge.

The House is scheduled to go into recess at the beginning of August, just two months after Wynn steps down. Hoyer, who also entered Congress through a special election, said that holding a primary and a general election takes at least 10 weeks.

If the process can't be expedited, the legislative year could be substantially over before Wynn's successor has the opportunity to participate.

"It is going to be inevitable that there will be some time that there will be a vacancy," Hoyer said.

In Annapolis yesterday, leaders in both parties criticized Wynn for resigning early to become a partner with Dickstein Shapiro LLP, a Washington firm that counts five former members of Congress among its 400-plus attorneys.

A special general election to replace him would cost about $1 million, most of which would be picked up by Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

"It would be nice if his law firm picked up the tab rather than his constituents," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

State Sen. David R. Brinkley, the Republican minority leader, also criticized Wynn's decision but agreed that a special election was the best option to ensure the district is represented.

O'Malley said he would work with Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers to get the bill through the General Assembly before the final day of the session next week.

Now that he has agreed to join a lobbying firm, Wynn's activities in Congress are likely to be curtailed.

For example, ethics rules will prevent him from voting on matters that could affect clients of Dickstein Shapiro.

Hoyer suggested that Wynn might remove himself from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, of which he is a senior member.

"There may be some thought that we need to have a full voting committee member who does not need to recuse himself on issues," Hoyer said. "Mr. Wynn may decide to step down from the committee prior to leaving" Congress.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com matthew.brown@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Laura Smitherman contributed to this article.

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