Wary Senator Provides Key Vote for Tax Bill

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Montgomery County senator proved to be a reluctant but decisive vote in bringing a drama-laden special session of the Maryland General Assembly to a close early yesterday.

As the clock passed 2 a.m., Republicans were trying to kill the final tax bill on the Senate's agenda through a filibuster. Democratic leaders drew up a motion designed to cut off debate.

The cloture motion required three-fifths of the chamber, or 29 senators, to pass. When Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) called the vote, only 28 members supported it.

"That's beautiful," Miller, who has a reputation for an ironclad grip on his chamber, groused sarcastically from the rostrum.

His chief of staff made a beeline to Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (Montgomery), one of five Democrats who joined Republicans in voting to allow debate to continue.

Nine minutes later, at 2:30 a.m., a second cloture vote was taken -- with the same result.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) quickly sidled up to Forehand's desk. She was then seen on the phone, smiling broadly. A visit from House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) ensued. His chamber had adjourned, assuming that the three-week session was all but over.

A third motion to cut off debate was soon brought to the floor. This time, Forehand went with the Democratic majority, and the motion received 29 votes.

That cleared the way for a vote on the tax bill, which required a majority of 24 senators for passage.

As the green and red votes went up on the board, it soon became apparent that the bill was one vote short and that Forehand intended to vote against it.

Moments after another Miller aide rushed to Forehand's desk, she switched from red to green before the tally was recorded. The bill received 24 votes, and the session soon ended.

"I really was so reluctant to vote for it," Forehand said later.

The source of her hesitation: Under the bill, the state would apply a 6 percent sales tax to a range of computer services. "I think that's going to be detrimental to my county," Forehand said.

Even so, she said, she had resolved to support the bill if Democrats needed her vote.

She also disclosed who was on the other end of the call that made her smile: Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

O'Malley's mother lives in Forehand's district, Forehand said, and she and O'Malley have become friendly. They talked a little about their Thanksgiving plans. And, she said, some business was discussed: "He thanked me for a previous vote and said he hoped I had another for him."

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