Power Politics In Maryland

Posted on July 8, 2008

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Adam Pagnucco, one of the best and most prolific bloggers in Maryland, is writing a great three-part series over at Maryland Politics Watch entitled “How to Get Clout in Annapolis.”

This question about political clout is close to the heart of democracy. I have mixed feelings about the whole subject.

A better word for “clout” is “power.” Is Montgomery County’s delegation less powerful than any other similar group of legislators? That is the general perception, but I’m not sure it’s true. Sometimes power is used quietly, with subtlety, out of the public eye. Things are not always as they appear. And how is the power used, for good or ill?

Sometimes those who grasp for power overreach, and sometimes unassuming legislators have more influence than they get credit for.

One criticism is that Montgomery County legislators are not “parochial” enough. I used to be a big believer in parochial politics. As Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” But the world has gotten a lot faster and smaller since Tip made that remark (and a lot more dangerous).

In its political sense, “parochial” means “having a limited or narrow outlook or scope.” Local is still important, but in the global economy, the “narrow outlook” approach to politics may be obsolete. The legislator who can see the big picture is the one who will be most effective in the politics of the 21st century. The legislator who can honestly work for the common good of all the people, whether it be all the people in Montgomery County or all the people in Maryland, will be the legislator who really has more “clout.” Or am I being too idealistic? I do think that the American electorate is fed up with the pork-barrel, bring-home-the-bacon, style of the federal and state legislative branches. Witness the outcry against “earmarks” in Congress.

I think Adam makes an excellent point about the power of President Mike Miller in the Maryland Senate. Mike Miller has done many great things for Maryland. But I had hoped he would stick with his intention of retiring, at least from the Senate presidency. The saying goes, “A strong leader makes a weak people.” Mike Miller is a strong leader. You might say that, after a number of years, “A strong President makes a weak Senate.”

The Senate would benefit from a change of leadership, and I think Sen. Miller could benefit as well. I think Miller would be a good candidate for comptroller, in the best tradition of Louis Goldstein and William Donald Schaefer.

Finally, I think Adam is spot on that Baltimore County is the battleground for the 2010 election for governor. Baltimore County also has more “swing” districts in the General Assembly than other parts of Maryland. Gov. Martin O’Malley has a good relationship with County Executive Jim Smith. I would not be surprised to see Democrats from all over Maryland sharing an awareness of the importance of Baltimore County, and that would be a good thing. — Bernie Hayden

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