About this time last year, Del. Steven Sklar arranged a debate on the merits of the D.C. Voting Right Amendment. The speakers were D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy and U.S. Rep. Robert Bauman, a leading opponent of the measure.
Fauntroy, Sklar says now, impressed him so much that he was persuaded to vote for rativication of the amendment in the House of Delegates. "I thought he'd be a very effective representative in Congress if the amendment was ratified," Sklar recalls.
But since then Sklar, 38, a veteran delegate from northwest Baltimore City, has become a subject of controversy in Maryland's voting-rights debate because of his decision to switch sides on the issue -- again because of Fauntroy.
Sklar has been the spokesman for the state's Jewish delegates, who say they cannot support District voting rights unless Fauntroy denounces the Palestine Liberation Organization -- and in effect nullifies his controversial meetings with representatives of that group last fall.
After meeting twice with Sklar and three other delegates and tentatively agreeing to make a statement, Fauntroy has denounced the Jewish group's request as "unconscionable" and has not contacted them in nearly a month.
Meanwhile, Sklar has seen his position attacked in newspaper editorials in Washington and Baltimore, by Baltimore's leading Jewish civic organizations, and by some of his own colleagues, who have urged him to drop his demands.
Nevertheless, Sklar and his fellow delegate from Baltimore, David Shapiro, have refused to compromise their position.
"I don't think there's anything distasteful about it," Sklar reiterated this week. "If Fauntroy can't pass a loyalty test (by denouncing PLO activities in Iran) I'm not going to consider an issue that he is in the forefront of."
Sklar's stubborn insistence on maintaining his current stand on D.C. voting rights -- and his willingness to grapple with Fauntroy and all others he disagrees with -- is typical of his career as a legislator.
For the last 12 years, the slender, bespectacled delegate has kept himself in the forefront of issues such as drug abuse control and environmental protection, through a combination of shrewd polictics and a feisty style.
Sklar comes from a west Baltimore community that has produced leading state politicians. After finishing high school in Baltimore and graduation from the Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania, Sklar went on to earn a law degree and jumped into local politics while working for the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City.
He was appointed to his delegate's seat in 1969 to replace Marvin Mandel, who had just been elected governor. Now, his district is also represented by House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D) and Senate Majority Leader Rosalie Abrams (D).
Sklar first began to win respect in the legislature in the late 1960s, when he supported legislative proposals intended to combat drug abuse. Most notably, he sponsored the state's comprehensive Drug Abuse Control Act of 1969, which set up the state's first rehabilitation programs and stipulated measures to control narcotics.
In the early 1970s, Sklar turned his attention to environmental legislation, and since then has become a nationally recognized advocate of antipollution and conservation measures.
Sklar takes credit, for example, for the establishment of Maryland's energy office and the governor's emergency power to impose gas rationing and other conservation measures.
As a co-founder of the energy committee of the National Conference of State Legislators, Sklar also serves as a national spokesman on energy problems and a liaison between state legislatures and the federal government on such issues.
The work he has done on energy and the environment has made Sklar sure of his abilities as a legislator and unwilling to give up his chosen issues -- including the voting-rights amendment.
"I believe in the legislative process as one of inquiry and discovery, not f of blind following," he said. "That's the whole tradition I respond to, and I'm not about to settle down now and go along just because the civic groups and the newspapers want me to."