Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-Prince George's) put it more bluntly than most when he was asked a couple of years ago why he had changed his vote and helped to pass an expensive bit of special interest legislation that had been defeated soundly four times before during that session.
It was "politics, baby -- a trade," he told a reporter.
And so it seemed last week with the District of Columbia voting rights amendment -- one of the most bitterly fought issues to hit the General Assembly. But unlike the well-oiled deal that Broadwater spoke of, the D.C. amendment provided the perfect example of a trade gone haywire, with all the attendant publicity, handwringing, charges, countercharges and uncertainty that follows.
The drama began quietly enough one morning last week, hours before most legislators had arrived in the luxurious and leathery Senate lounge at the State House. D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, a leading proponent of the amendment, and four Maryland delegates closed themselves off in the normally public room and sat down to talk.
Fauntroy came out with the distinct impression that at least two ofthe delegates had told him they could not vote for the amendment -- as they had last year -- unless he issued a public statement critical of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The delegates have been fuming since Fauntroy visited with PLO leader Yasser Arafat last fall.
After the meeting, Fauntroy went back to Washington and the delegates went back to their desks in Annapolis.
Then the publicity dam broke.
The delegates' demand -- they would prefer to call it a request -- drew one front page news article, denouncements on the editorial pages of The washington Post and The Baltimore Sun and an article in the Baltimore Jewish Times titled: "The D.C. -- PLO Connection."
Local Jewish organizations rushed to reiterate their endorsement of the amendment and to make clear, without mentioning the Annapolis-Fauntroy flap, that this is not a case of black-Jewish confrontation.
The American Jewish Congress in New York City went so far as to issue a statement asserting: "The misguided efforts of certain Maryland legislators to link these two events (the amendment and Fauntroy's PLO visit) are distasteful and certainly do not reflect the position taken by the American Jewish community."
The handful of Jewish delegates found themselves in the unlikely position of wishing the publicity would go away.
One of the legislators, who returned a phone call Sunday night and found himself on the line with a reporter who wanted to talk about D.C. voting rights, groaned: "Oh, God, I thoughtthat was over last week."
The reaction in Annapolis ran from ho-hum, so-what-else-is-new, to Sen. Howard Denis' accusation that the suggested trading of votes for Fauntroy's criticism of the PLO was "deplorable, dreadful." Denis, a Montgomery County Republican who has opposed the amendment since last year on constitutional grounds, said the "whole thing makes me feel uncomfortable. You know, I got a call from a TV station this weekend and all they wanted was 'Are you Jewish?'"
House Majority Leader Donald Robertson (D-Montgomery) views what happened only as an extension of the traditional trading that is so much a part of the legislative process.
"Lots of things go into why a member (of the General Assembly) makes up his or her mind on what action to take," said Robertson. "It happens all the time . . . The only thing that's different about this is it involves two bodies external to the state of Maryland -- the District and the Middle East."
But the delegates would differ with any assertion that their actions are akin to vote trading.
"I don't see it that way at all," said Del. Steven Sklar (D-Baltimore).
"We're not asking for anything that would benefit our district. We're just trying to clarify the motivations and objectives of a major proponenet of D.C. voting rights."
Sklar and his Democratic colleague from Baltimore, David Shapiro, see Fauntroy as the likely man to be elected the District's first senator if the amendment is ratified.
"I look at somebody who satnds to get into the Senate and won't be counted disassociating himself from the PLO," said Sklar.
Sklar said all he and colleagues wanted from Fauntroy was a statement on the PLO's role in supporting the Iranian militants holding the American hostages.
"If that's too distasteful for him, tough," said Sklar.
For his part, Fauntroy called a press conference in Washington last week and blasted the legislators for asking for the statement in the first place, saying it was "the height of political arrogance."
Sklar and Shapiro say they have not heard anything directly from Fauntroy since, but are waiting for his next move.
The D.C. amendment, which would give the District full voting representation in Congress, including two senators, was passed by the Maryland Senate last year, but failed three times in the House of Delegates -- each time by a single vote. So each favorable vote is precious to its supporters, perhaps explaining the events of last week.
If there is anything to be learned from this little legislative drama, it is perhaps something that Senator Denis mulled over as the week drew to a close. p
"Whenever you want something in Annapolis, no matter how innocuous, just any little old bill, there are going to be a lot of people who will make you pay a tremendous price for it. When you get a big one like D.C. voting rights, well . . . what can you expect?"