Dundalk Del. John S. Arnick; Elected 9 Times to Md. House

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

John S. Arnick, 72, a longtime force in the Maryland House of Delegates who resurrected his political career after accusations of insensitivity toward women forced him to give up a judgeship, died June 13 of lung cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Mr. Arnick was elected to the Maryland House nine times from Dundalk, a working-class section of Baltimore County, and was considered one of the most powerful legislators in the State House. A conservative Democrat, he served more than 30 years in the legislature, holding several key committee chairmanships and spending 11 years as majority leader.

Except for a four-year period from 1979 to 1983, Mr. Arnick served in the Maryland House from 1967 through April 30 of this year, when he resigned to take a position on the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals. He was a master of parliamentary procedure, institutional history and legislative minutiae who "read every single bill that went through the legislature," said Mary Monahan, chief clerk of the House of Delegates.

He was majority leader from 1971 to 1979 and from 1987 to 1990. He was on the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee for 20 years and was House chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review from 1983 to 1986 and from 1995 to 2003. He chaired the House facilities committee for 10 years and held several ethics and oversight positions.

Mr. Arnick, a Baltimore native who first entered the legislature when Spiro Agnew was governor, was an ex-Marine who came of age in the era of backslapping, old-boy politics. It was a style that served him well in his home base, the blue-collar precincts east of Baltimore.

Early in his career, he worked his way into a leadership position and was described in 1978 by The Washington Post as "his party's enforcer."

As chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee for most of the 1970s and in the 1980s, he was considered unsympathetic to many positions favored by environmentalists. In 1977, women's groups denounced him for introducing a bill that would have required a married woman to get her husband's consent for an abortion.

He was again assailed by women's rights advocates after he was nominated by Gov. William Donald Schaefer in 1993 for a 10-year term as District Court judge. Mr. Arnick had already taken a seat on the court, pending state Senate approval, when a female lawyer told the Senate Executive Nominations Committee that, during a dinner in 1992, Mr. Arnick had made racial and ethnic jokes and called women liars and other derogatory terms.

Mr. Arnick, who was "well known for salty language and flamboyant behavior in the Annapolis bar scene," according to The Post, initially held his ground, but the episode escalated into the legislature's scandal of the season. After 10 days, he withdrew his name and stepped down from the bench.

Seven months later, in September 1993, the delegate appointed to take Mr. Arnick's place died while playing softball, and Mr. Arnick regained his old legislative seat. He became chairman of the Judiciary Committee and held other top positions and, since 2002, had become one of the legislature's chief Democratic allies of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland's first Republican governor since Agnew. He was considered a possible candidate for a post as Ehrlich's chief lobbyist with the legislature.

Instead, Mr. Arnick retained his legislative seat and became known in recent years for his efforts to restrict the use of cellphones by Maryland drivers. For five straight years, he introduced bills that ultimately went down to defeat after heavy lobbying by the cellphone industry.

Mr. Arnick grew up in Baltimore County and served in the Marine Corps in the 1950s. He graduated from the University of Baltimore and, in 1961, from the university's law school. He practiced law in Dundalk.

His marriages to Janet E. Arnick and Joan N. Arnick ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of seven years, Joanne Tribble Arnick of Dundalk; two stepdaughters, Suzanne Kaplan of Timonium, Md., and Erin Tribble of Oakland, Calif.; and a sister.

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