Montgomery council member: State lawmakers answer to Annapolis ‘masters’


Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin and then-member Mike Knapp chat during a meeting in 2010. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
November 13, 2013

It’s only about 45 miles from Rockville to Annapolis. But for members of the Montgomery County Council and the county’s state legislative delegation, differences in operating style, philosophy and priorities can make the two groups seem far more distant.

Two weeks ago, council members and state lawmakers stood shoulder-to-shoulder at a news conference, vowing to take unified action to secure a major school construction funding package next year from the General Assembly and Gov. Martin O’Malley.

But at a council discussion Tuesday on state legislative strategy, council member Valerie Ervin said it would be a struggle to keep legislators focused on Montgomery’s needs when they are too often beholden to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D).

“They’re different animals,” Ervin (D-Silver Spring) said of the delegation. “When they get to Annapolis, the people they listen to are not us. They have other masters. ... Let’s not be naive.”

State lawmakers of course begged to differ.

“I don’t let comments bother me,” said Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery), chair of the county’s house delegation. “We deliver every year on education funding and school construction, and [this] year we delivered quite mightily transportation,” she added, referring to passage of an increase in the state gasoline tax to fund transportation projects in the county.

State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, chair of the Montgomery Senate delegation and Senate majority whip, said the only masters lawmakers have are voters.

“I love Mike Miller and Mike Busch, but they would be surprised to hear they are my masters,” said Raskin (D-Montgomery). He offered the repeal of the death penalty and passage of a gay marriage law as examples of bucking leadership.

“The Montgomery delegation was nearly unanimous for marriage equality and nearly unanimous for the death penalty repeal when leadership was in a different place.”

But the delegation was not quite the band of mavericks that Raskin describes. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) supported the death penalty repeal and came to support gay marriage by the time legislation passed last year. Miller (D-Calvert) personally opposed same-sex marriage and voted to keep the death penalty, but quite deliberately eased up on his formidable powers and did not try to block the legislation.

Ervin’s council colleagues didn’t fall over themselves to back her up at Tuesday's meeting. But in subsequent interviews, some said she had a point.

“I think she’s right,” said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), pointing to support by the delegation for tightening school funding requirements and transferring some of the cost of teacher pensions to the county level.

“Those votes handcuffed us,” said Andrews, a candidate for county executive in 2014, who lists the county’s public employee unions among the masters in Annapolis.

Raskin said he wasn’t interested in relitigating old issues. But he did say that state lawmakers function in a different environment than the nine council members.

“We have 47 senators and 141 delegates. The vast majority come from other jurisdictions,” he said. “We do have to engage in the art of compromise. We do have to come together to work collaboratively with our colleagues from around the state.”

Council member Craig Rice, who served in the House of Delegates from 2006 to 2010, also agreed that Ervin had a point, although he had a little more empathy for his former colleagues.

“The dynamic is different,” said Rice (D-Upcounty). “It’s a committee-dominated leadership structure. It requires leadership to be on your side. A committee chair can put bills in a drawer and they’ll never see the light of day.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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