Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr. (D-Dorchester), the once-powerful dean of eight Eastern Shore senators, now reduced to the ceremonial post of Senate president pro tem, was feeling particularly besieged today.
A bill reached the Senate floor setting up statewide collective bargaining procedures for police officers and firefighters--including his rural county. For Malkus, a self-described "country boy" who has watched power here shift from rural to urban hands, the bill was the latest example of the increasing political isolation of rural Maryland in an urban-oriented state.
"It's unfair for them to tell us how to run our counties," Malkus declared. "They have no compassion or understanding as to how we live in rural areas."
"Our people don't want it," added Sen. Edward P. Thomas (R-Frederick). "But the beltway bullies just beat us around down here."
So Malkus, Thomas and their rural colleagues turned to the one weapon reserved for a beleaguered minority--the filibuster--and succeeded in getting the bill delayed.
"We get things rammed down our throat in Western Maryland," said Sen. Victor Cushwa (D-Washington County) during his turn at the microphone. "We've got one-half of the state's inmates in Western Maryland." He implored his colleagues, "Please, give us the right to represent our constituents."
Collective bargaining is a perennial issue here that traditionally divides the legislature along rural and urban lines. Baltimore and its surrounding counties, as well as the Washington suburbs of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, already have various stages of collective bargaining with their local police officers and firefighters. But each year, the urban legislators launch what they believe is an altruistic attempt to extend that "right" to public employes in rural areas. And each year, the rural legislators answer, "Leave us alone."
Maryland's organized labor unions have made collective bargaining a major agenda item this year. At the March 13 Solidarity Day rally on the State House steps, Thomas Bradley, president of the Maryland/D.C. AFL-CIO, called on lawmakers to "free public employes across this state from the oppression of collective begging and bring them the dignity of collective bargaining . . . "
But in Cushwa's Washington County and on Malkus' Eastern Shore, as in neighboring Virginia, collective bargaining is a "dignity" lawmakers say they can do without.
The rural legislators won today, as their urban colleagues decided that a filibuster would tie up too much urban legislation on the Senate's crowded calendar. But the hour-long filibuster left many rural legislators dismayed at their political impotence in a state they once controlled.
Until 1962, under a county-unit system of representation, used here and in Georgia, each jurisdiction was entitled to one senator. In those days before one-man, one-vote, for example, urbanized Montgomery County had one senator while the lightly populated Eastern Shore had eight.
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down county-unit voting as unconstitutional, Maryland's "great revolution" of 1962, reapportionment, brought about a complete shift in political power, with Baltimore increasing its representation from one senator to seven, and the Eastern shore declining to two.
"We were a lot better to them than they are to us," Malkus sighed, during a break in the debate today. "When we had complete control of the Senate, the chairmen were picked on ability. Now they're picked on the basis of geography. There is not one major committee chairman from the rural areas."