“Are they shackling them down when they’re delivering?” Vallario asked the staffer.
“Were they shackled for transportation?”
“Where’s the problem?”
“I’ll look at the file,” the chairman promised, then moved on, mumbling to no one in particular: “We don’t want to pass that bill.”
Ever since he took over Judiciary a generation ago, Vallario’s verdict — up, down or indifferent — has shaped the way Maryland deals with crime and punishment. There he was Friday, presiding for nearly 14 hours as more than 1,000 people traveled to Annapolis to argue the merits of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gun-control bill. The governor’s death penalty repeal, about which Vallario has reservations, also will come before his committee.
Vallario, who turns 76 this week, is not a man who embraces change. Elected to the assembly in 1974, when Gerald Ford was president, he has survived seven governors, 10 elections and innumerable critics who have portrayed him as too easy on drunk drivers, rapists and spousal abusers, among others. And he has been accused of helping kill the kind of gun-control bill now before his committee because he’s also an attorney who represents clients charged with gun crimes.
Yet the chairman now finds himself facing the kind of change that could threaten his political survival, a change caused by redistricting, which has remade his district’s boundaries so that half now includes Bowie, a northern chunk of Prince George’s where he has never campaigned.
Driven by population shifts and political manuevering, the redistricting altered legislative lines across Maryland. Yet, Vallario’s friends question whether the senior Democrats who most influenced the new map were trying to push Vallario into retirement.
Whatever the case, Vallario’s foes are tantalized by the twist.
“I love it,” said Jan Withers, president of Mothers against Drunk Driving, which has long clashed with the chairman. “Over many years, it’s been very difficult to get what we consider to be lifesaving legislation passed in Judiciary because Mr. Vallario is an obstructionist. I would hope that people in his new district look at his record.”
Vallario expressed no worries as he sat behind his desk on a recent afternoon, promising to run for reelection while dipping into the tall barrel of bright orange cheese balls he keeps behind his desk.
“I’ll do what I normally do and we’ll be in pretty good shape,” he said, alluding to a campaign regimen that typically includes drop-ins at civic gatherings, scouts meetings and schools. “There’s an old saying: It’s not how good you are. It’s how good the competition is.”