Maryland Special Session – Leadership

Posted on November 20, 2007


The Special Session of the Maryland General Assembly put Democratic leaders to the test of breaking government gridlock in Maryland, and most of them passed.

Gov. Martin O’Malley justified the decision of Maryland voters who selected him over Republican Bob Ehrlich in the 2006 election. O’Malley was still seen as the brash young upstart with a mixed record as mayor of Baltimore, an unpopular city in much of the state. Ehrlich was the incumbent, wildly popular among those who prefer do-nothing government.

People were sick of dysfunctional, incompetent government (examples: the war in Iraq; the federal, state and local response to the destruction of New Orleans). People took a chance and voted for change.

With the Special Session, O’Malley graduated from promising young politician to mature, “can-do” political leader. He did it by being a contrarian. He listened to others but used his own best judgment. When many shouted “emergency” and called for immediate action last winter and spring, O’Malley was patient. This fall, when many urged caution and delay, he acted.

Whatever your views on the resulting tax and slots package, the outcome of the Special Session represents progress. O’Malley succeeded in breaking government gridlock. It’s only a beginning. There are many challenges ahead.

Senate President Mike Miller, longest serving president of the Maryland Senate, is a student of Maryland history. The Special Session may have been the beginning of a long “last hurrah” for Miller. Or maybe he will play other important future roles as a senior statesman. Either way, his leadership of a deeply divided Senate through a perilous Special Session can only add luster to his legend.

House Speaker Michael Busch led a House of Delegates that was nearly as contentious as the Senate. (At least in the House he didn’t have to worry about a filibuster.) After holding off slot-machine gambling for four years, he proved that he’s a leader of action, not gridlock. “This is a day to move Maryland forward,” Busch said at the bill signing, according to a Washington Post report. “It puts all the demons behind us.” Appropriate sentiments, Mr. Speaker. However, we’d better keep running fast. The demons may be behind us, but I can hear their footsteps and feel their hot breath on my neck. 

Comptroller Peter Franchot repeatedly called for delay, delay, delay. Former Governor and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was Maryland’s annoyed and effective “do-it-today” leader. Martin O’Malley has established a patient “do-it-this-year” style. Franchot is strictly “do-it-next-year.”

For opposing views, you could see Red Maryland, or O’Malley Watch,

For more more balanced and progressive analysis of the Special Session, see Free State Politics, and Maryland Political Watch,  More on the Special Session here, when I find the time.  —  Bernie Hayden