FOR SEVERAL YEARS of my life, I covered the politics and government of the state of Maryland. When the legislature was in session, I watched grown men chase little girls, burp into their microphones, mangle the English language, trade votes, sell votes, not vote and vote for bills they neither understood nor made any attempt to read. This, I have to tell you, took place in the era of reform.
In the off season, I covered trials. In my time, two governors of that state were convicted of crimes relating to what they had done in office -- Spiro T. Agnew and Marvin Mandel. This was nothing. In my experience, just being elected executive of Baltimore County is enough to warrant indictment.
You want more? I'll give you more. The speaker of the Maryland house went to jail for taking a bribe. The U.S. senator from the state was also convicted of taking a bribe. In Prince George's County, so many people were convicted of taking bribes, they could have formed a burial society. On the Eastern Shore, a congressman went to jail. In Baltimore County, a prosecutor was convicted of taking a carnal bribe. Yuck!
More? I'll give you more. The governor left his wife and she barricaded herself in the mansion. He moved to a hotel. A state senator was busted for smuggling pot and bailed out by his colleagues so he could break a tie vote. Another member of the legislature fled from the State House to avoid arrest, was arrested anyway and was later bumped off in Baltimore. I had to stop covering Maryland. I was getting older. I couldn't take the excitement anymore.
I list these highlights in the history of the Free State because today a committee of the Maryland legislature is sitting in judgment on the District of Columbia. Before it are scheduled to come two supplicants, the mayor, Marion Barry, and the nonvoting delegate to the Congress of the United States, Walter Fauntroy. What these two men want from Maryland is its support of something called the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment, which would give the District of Columbia two members in the House of Representatives and two real senators. Maryland, however, finds the District of Columbia morally insufficient.
I know. It takes your breath away. The cause of this legislative snit is Fauntroy, himself, who is a member of Congress cum civil rights leader went off to Beirut for his now-famous sit down with Yasser Arafat, the only man capable of always having a week's growth of beard. For this, Fauntroy was roundly criticized at the time and, in my view, rightly so. What he did was foolish and to some people offensive, but he had every right to do it.
Leaders of the Maryland legislature beg to differ. They found Fauntroy's trip so offensive that they cannot vote for the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment on the theory that Fauntroy himself will be the District's senator if and when the amendment is ratified. With Fauntroy leading this effort, they need not hold their breath.
No matter. This is a signal lesson in why the amendment needs to be passed. What Fauntroy did he did in his capacity as a religious, political and civic leader, and there are plenty of people who think he did the right thing. He ought to be accountable to them and not to the legislators of Maryland. If the people of Washington don't approve, they'll vote him out of office. This is, after all, their business.
The Maryland legislators seem well-intentioned. They are, for the most part, Jewish and they are offended that Fauntroy did business with a man who many Jews see as nothing more than a killer. But the issue is not Arafat. It is the right of the people of Washington to have some sort of say about their government -- to have a vote.
Will Fauntroy have to account to abortion zealots -- pro or con -- for his stand on this issue? Will he have to promise now to vote yes or no? Will the prayer-in-schools people want to get a pledge from him on this issue and will the truckers of Maryland who have for years run roughshod over the General Assembly want to know where he stands on the 55 m.p.h. controversy?
The position of the Maryland legislators is something of an insult to the people of Washington. They want Washingtonians to be punished for the perceived mistakes of one man, maybe turning him out of office until a man more to their liking is elected. If the rest of the country applied the same rules to Maryland, the state would have been kicked out of Congress years ago and the people stripped of their right to vote. Look, Maryland, I know you. You're living in a glass house.
Don't throw stones.