When midnight struck in the House of Delegates chamber here Monday night, nearly a dozen Prince George's County legislators could be seen swarming near the steps to the speaker's rostrum, where two prized county bills were drowning in a backwater of leftover paper.
At least three of the county's senators left their own chamber to join the rush to catch the attention of Speaker Benjamin Cardin. Another half-dozen delegates stood at their desks in the rear of the House, shouting into their microphones for recognition. All the arm-waving the county could muster failed to help the two bills and both died for lack of time.
Their defeat was common failure for the last frantic hours of a legislative session. What added sting to the disappointment of county legislative leaders today was the knowledge that one of those bills was supposed to represent part of the county's lone successful effort at muscle-flexing this session -- and that the delegation's own errors had caused its defeat.
The bill was part of a package of three bond measurers giving the county $1.1 million for restoration of historic houses that the Prince George's senators obtained in exchange for their support of Baltimore City's $22 million bond bill for Memorial Stadium. Even this modest package failed to win enactment in its entirety because of a drafting error in one of the bills and a last-minute filibuster by a delegate from Montgomery County.
For many Prince George's and Montgomery legislators, the final defeat of the bond bill was a fitting end to a session that gave the counties almost all the state funding they wanted even as the delegations failed to act with the unity and influence they had talked about three months ago.
Legislation that will bring the two counties close to $20 million in new funding for Metro, schools and other services passed the legislature easily, because of a huge state surplus and the willingness of Gov. Harry Hughes to compromise with Cardin and other legislative leaders.
The Prince George's and Montgomery delegations, after talking for weeks before the session about their plans to work as unified forces to wrest new programs and concessions from Baltimore City and the rest of the state, spent a good part of their time fighting among themselves and trying to decide what they commonly wanted.
"We didn't have any real direction or goals," complained Prince George's Del. Timothy Maloney of his group. "Baltimore City and Baltimore County had a whole plan of action laid out -- if we don't get A, we go for B -- and it worked. We just never had that."
On the Metro issue, delegation leaders point out, Prince George's and Montgomery did hold a unified position in favor of state funding, which never became a controversial question in the legislature.
Both delegations managed to work with a minimum of controversy on local legislation, and in the last hours of the session, combined to assure passage of a bill that will allow Prince George's and Montgomery local control in the regulation of nursing homes.
On several major issues, the two delegations were unable to agree both with each other and within their own ranks on what stand to take, or whether they should take a stand.
At no time was this problem more evident then during the passage of the Memorial Stadium bond bill, which had been targeted by both delegations before the session as a likely lever for winning support for local programs from Baltimore City and the legislative leadership.
When the bond bill reached the House last month, Prince George's delegates quickly obtained a two-day delay in the floor debate so that the delegation could meet to adopt a strategy on the issue.
Once the county's 24 delegates had caucused it became apparent that no unified stance would be possible. Even as delegation chairman Robert Redding called for a bloc vote against the stadium, half a dozen of his delegates were rising to explain that they were committed to vote for the bill because of their positions in the leadership or their own private vote-trading. b
As a result, more than half of the county delegation ended up voting against the stadium with the vague expectation that they would win something for Prince George's if the bill failed in an initial vote. The bill passed, and county delegates succeeded only in angering Baltimore City's leadership with their votes. "it was a quid for a nonexistent quo," Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Bowie) remarked later.
When the stadium bill reached a critical stage in the Senate later in the session, both the Montgomery and Prince George's senators were able to win new funding for their counties by threatening to withhold their support.
Instead of combining their votes to win further state funding for Metro or another common program, however, the two delegations ended up making separate, more modest deals with the legislative leadership and accusing each other of treachery.
The acrimony between the two groups became so great the Prince George's senators spent one caucus trying to device a way to strike a bargain on Memorial Stadium that would result in some of Montgomery's new state funding being effectively transferred to Prince George's.
Eventualy, the senators settled on the three bond bills as their price, only to see one of them die with the help of a Montgomery delegate.
"everyone lost it at the last minute except for Baltimore City," said Montgomery delegation chairman David Scull in retrospect. "the city never loses, because they have a wonderfully efficient machine."