It was a scene normally played out in April, in the frantic closing hours of the 90th day of the annual legislative session. On this 45th day, halfway point of the 1982 meeting of the Maryland General Assembly, senators traded personal attacks on the chamber floor and complained in the back-room lounge about the leadership of Senate President James Clark.
For a while, it looked as if the acrimonious debate over a legislative redistricting plan might continue past a midnight deadline. If that occurred, a technically flawed plan would have automatically gone into law, setting the stage for opponents to attack the plan in court.
The senate eventually passed a redistricting plan this afternoon, but not before Clark, who attempted to block its passage, was vilified by some of his Democratic colleagues, including one who predicted that Clark would not again be elected Senate president. The plan finally approved was the same one passed earlier by the House of Delegates, and was, except for correction of technical defects, almost identical to the one proposed by Gov. Harry Hughes.
Hughes had upset the Senate president by dividing the booming new town of Columbia, which Clark represents, into two separate senatorial districts. When Clark attempted last week to amend the governor's plan and reunite Columbia in a single district, the Princes George's County delegation, whose power would be strengthened by Hughes' plan, filibustered for a week and defeated Clark's amendment.
Today, with the deadline at hand, Clark--against the advice of Democrats from both houses--reintroduced his amendment. "There is no reason why the Senate cannot put its stamp on this bill," he said. "I see no reason why we always have to be pushed around by the House.
"All I ask," drawled the gentleman farmer from Howard County, "is that the senators from Prince George's allow the Senate of Maryland to go on and to vote fairly on this amendment."
Clark's plea went unheeded. Almost before he was finished speaking, Sen. Thomas V. (Mike) Miller, the leader of the Prince George's delegation, was on his feet.
Miller launched into such a stinging attack on Clark that Sen. Howard Denis, the noncombative Republican from Montgomery County, interrupted to ask that the Senate rule against personal attacks be enforced. "This is the kind of thing that has led to physical confrontations in other legislatures," Denis warned.
But Miller went on, and Sen. Victor Crawford, head of the Montgomery delegation, walked out of the chamber, shaking his head. "This is the biggest mistake of Jim Clark's political career," Crawford said. "He'll never be president of the Senate again. You can't be the president of the Senate and get involved in the nitty-gritty battles of the floor. This whole thing has damaged everyone's confidence in the leadership."
Crawford said that earlier in the day the Montgomery delegation had met with Clark and "read him the riot act," telling Clark that support for his position was virtually nonexistent, and that his Senate colleagues were on the verge of open revolt against him.
"I have to represent the people of Howard County," responded Clark.
After 30 minutes of rancorous debate, Clark called for a vote to kill the filibuster, knowing he lacked the 32 required votes. When he got only 8, Clark, conceded immediately, and the redistricting plan then passed by a vote of 33-10.
"If I were just the senator from Howard and Montgomery counties I would not do this," Clark said. "But I am not and sometimes the two have to be separated. Therefore, with a heavy heart I withdraw the amendment."