Call it revenge season.
It comes every year during the final days of the Maryland General Assembly session: A time for settling scores, a time when slights and double-crosses are repaid in kind. This year is no different.
Just ask Del. Joseph Bartenfelder. For the last week, Bartenfelder (D-Baltimore County) has been walking the halls of the General Assembly wearing a hangdog expression. Three years into his first term, Bartenfelder is learning that "an eye for an eye" is a legislative, as well as a biblical, concept.
Bartenfelder's expression -- part anguish, part dismay and part injured male ego -- reflects the lesson he is being taught after casting the deciding vote in the House Judiciary Committee to substantially weaken a child support bill. The bill was a priority for women lawmakers, and Bartenfelder had promised to help them fight off amendments.
Within hours of his vote, two women members of the Judiciary Committee retaliated. One sought out state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., chairman of the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee. Another went to Sen. Barbara Hoffman (D-Baltimore), a member of Miller's committee. Their message: block a bill Bartenfelder had before Miller's committee that would recognize in statute the practice of joint custody of a child.
"We're making an honest man of Bartenfelder," explained Miller, who despite qualms about jeopardizing a bill with merit has held the legislation in limbo as the assembly's final days tick away. The Prince George's Democrat said the bill is less important than obliging his committee colleague and following an unwritten legislative code that commitments, once given, should be honored.
It may be cold comfort to Bartenfelder, but he is not alone as the legislature heads toward its midnight adjournment tonight. Probably a dozen or more scores will be settled in the final hours.
During this time, legislators seeking a vehicle to avenge a wrong done by a colleague suddenly take an interest in the computer that keeps track of all bills and their status.
So it was that Sen. Joseph S. Bonvegna, a taciturn but wily Democratic practitioner of the black arts of politics from East Baltimore, recently researched the bills that were still available that Del. Dennis C. Donaldson (D-Prince George's) had sponsored.
Bonvegna, the sponsor of perennial legislation that would give optometrists the right to dispense diagnostic eyedrops -- an issue the ophthalmologists always fight to the death -- had been done in by a Donaldson maneuver. Although Donaldson opposed the measure, he introduced a bill similar to Bonvegna's in the House, a clever ploy that took advantage of a slight edge in favor of the ophthalmologists on a House committee. It worked to perfection: the House committee killed the Donaldson version just as Bonvegna's hit the Senate floor, ending all momentum on the issue. Bonvegna withdrew his bill.
Had Bonvegna found a means of revenge? He had checked the bills Donaldson was sponsoring, to no avail. "Donaldson didn't have anything," said Bonvegna with a look that said he, like the Boston Red Sox, would have to wait for next year.
Legislative revenge has an infinite number of variations.
* Sometimes it has to do with legislative courtesy and its flip side, legislative pique. Which is why Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's) held up a $75,000 bond bill sought by a county colleague, Del. Christine M. Jones, also a Democrat.
* The bill would help fund restoration of a Beltsville historical site that is important to blacks, Jones among them. Jones made one mistake: She forgot to tell Dorman, who represents Beltsville, about the bill or to add delegates from his district as cosponsors. After egos were soothed, Jones got her project.
* Other times, legislative revenge is used to send a message. This was at work when the House Ways and Means Committee inexplicably killed an innocuous bill sought by the Hughes administration to establish a trust fund so residents could contribute to the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
That execution took place the day after the House Environmental Matters Committee defeated legislation sought by Del. Daniel M. Long (D-Eastern Shore) to amend the state's critical areas law that seeks to control shoreline development. Long had been negotiating a compromise for many months with the Department of Natural Resources, but department officials eventually broke off talks and opposed his bill in committee.
Like many Eastern Shore lawmakers, Long had a standing grudge against the natural resources department because of the state's decision last fall to establish a moratorium on catching rockfish. So he used the vote on the bay trust bill as a slap at the department. The bill got all of three votes on Ways and Means.
"I'm just a little ol' freshman delegate from Somerset County who has no influence in the General Assembly," said a smiling Long when confronted with evidence of his deed. "But I've been fortunate to make a few friends."
His message delivered, Long relented and the bay trust bill passed on a reconsideration.
* Legislative revenge can be delivered wholesale. The three delegates from the 11th District in Baltimore County learned that last year after they voted against legislation supported by the assembly leadership to restrict public employes' pensions. For the remainder of the session, almost every bill sponsored by the three delegates was killed.
* And finally, legislative revenge sometimes has more to do with politics than with legislation. Such was the case when Dorman's bill to require physicians to get informed consent from breast cancer patients before they operate was killed by the House Environmental Matters Committee.
The chairman of Environmental Matters, Del. Larry Young (D-Baltimore), had been lying in wait for Dorman ever since he learned it was Dorman who had informed House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore) of a questionable fund-raising operation organized by Young and the head of the state medical society. Cardin put a stop to it, thereby costing Young considerable political capital.
So when the time came for the hearing on Dorman's bill, which was opposed by the medical society, Young kept the senator waiting for more than an hour before he could testify. Shortly afterward, Dorman's bill was killed.
As they say so often in the General Assembly, paybacks are hell. But paybacks also beget paybacks, which is why Del. Paul E. Weisengoff (D-Baltimore) said he never plays tit-for-tat.
"This getting even can get you in trouble," said Weisengoff, who as the legislature's preeminent horse trader and nose counter is hardly known as a Boy Scout. "The guy always figures he has to get even with you in return. Getting even is the worst thing you can do if you want to be effective. The best thing is to make friends."
Just ask Weisengoff about his friend House Majority Leader Donald B. Robertson (D-Montgomery). Robertson alerted the State Ethics Commission to a scheme by Weisengoff to amend a bill creating a race track museum so it would allow legislators and other officials to collect free race track passes without disclosing them.
Weisengoff got even when the bill Robertson was pushing to limit campaign contributions by political action committees hit the House floor. The bill was doomed in any case, but Weisengoff wanted it to get a shellacking.
It died, 81 to 42.