Freshman Eastern Shore Del. Ronald Guns (D-Cecil) tried twice to tell the House Environmental Matters Committee here today what he thought of the controversial Chesapeake Bay protection legislation the committee had just passed.
The first time, he lost his voice; the second time, he started to speak but ended up crying instead and left the room.
Guns' reaction was the emotional climax of months of haggling and days of intense negotiation in the state capital over how best to save the bay. Today, Eastern Shore legislators reluctantly accepted compromise legislation that would slightly alter but not significantly change strict new development regulations that the House and Senate have approved. Those regulations were formulated by the special Critical Areas Commission seeking to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
Much of the state shoreline designated as a critical area for the purposes of the bay plan lies along the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore, a largely rural water-dependent network of communities that many Marylanders see only on their way to ocean resorts during the summer.
Legislators from the area say that the shore should not be treated like the rest of the state. Its politics is more conservative and its needs are different, they insist. But its population, and therefore its representation and influence in the state capital, is sparse.
Today's defeat was one in a series of setbacks that the General Assembly's 13-member Eastern Shore delegation have suffered in a year when legislators seeking reelection this fall are eager to take victories back to their districts.
"The issues this year have had statewide implications rather than being purely parochial and local," said state Sen. President Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County).
There have been some successes. Worcester County delegates quickly won a chance to have a new hospital constructed in Berlin when Gov. Harry Hughes included $100,000 in his budget for a study into the matter.
"In the process of cooperation we feel we should help the Eastern Shore with something to take back after this four-year battle" for the hospital, said House Environmental Matters Committee Chairman Larry Young (D-Baltimore).
But the key losses have been highly publicized ones. In the Senate, Sen. Frederick Malkus (D-Dorchester) led a fight to have a judge in his home district removed from the bench by denying him Senate confirmation of his nine-month-old appointment.
Despite an emotional appeal to his colleagues on the Senate floor for a show of legislative courtesy often accorded on local issues, the judge won the Senate confirmation.
Eastern Shore legislators also lost a Senate fight to defeat Hughes' effort to implement a new statewide housing code. Such a standard, legislators said, would unfairly penalize rural jurisdictions' attempts to improve housing at their own pace. The Eastern Shore representatives did manage to weaken the standards for the housing code in a House committee and to delay implementation. The issue is still awaiting full House action.
"The people back home know we only have 10 votes" in the House, Guns said this week. "They expect us to come over here and fight to keep what we have. It's a defensive posture, to keep from losing what we have."
The Eastern Shore representatives have consistently railed against the Chesapeake Bay regulations, which include development curbs that would be implemented within a 1,000-foot strip of shoreline along the bay and its tributaries. They say their jurisdictions will be unfairly penalized for pollution caused upstream in Baltimore and other urban areas.
Today, however, Young's committee rejected, in a 13-to-11 vote, a measure that would have eased the development curbs. The Eastern Shore proposal would have allowed builders to construct one dwelling on every eight acres of land rather than one dwelling on every 20 acres, as the current regulations allow.
"It will destroy our way of life on the Eastern Shore," Guns said of the current regulations just before the vote was taken.
"Don't take the land away from us," he said. "That is our Inner Harbor just like Baltimore City's. That's all we have to offer."
The committee's vote followed a week of furious lobbying on each side of the issue.
"I think we probably feel frustrated every year when we come up here," said Del. Daniel Long (D-Somerset). "We represent a different philosophy -- more moderate, fiscally conservative."
Long was present today when the House committee approved five other bills that would allow variations from the development density requirements in certain instances, a minor victory for Eastern Shore forces.
"We picture those five bills as merely a meatless bone thrown to the Eastern Shore for dinner," said Karl O. Gilbert, a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Realtors, which has been actively backing the shore delegates in their efforts to leave room for increased development.
But Department of Natural Resources Secretary Torrey Brown said that the compromise was the best one that could be struck without "doing violence to the whole principle" of bay conservation.
Several legislators, including Appropriations Committee Chairman R. Clayton Mitchell Jr.(D-Kent), who voted for the strict overall regulations, said that efforts will be made next year to persuade a new governor and the legislature that further compromise is necessary.
The density relief measure was defeated, Mitchell said, in part because of election-year maneuvering. "It had been tagged as an environmental issue versus the expansion of development on the shore," he said.
But Eastern Shore legislators have tagged the housing, bay and judgeship issues as home rule issues.
"People on the Eastern Shore . . . don't live all that badly," Sen. Walter Baker (D-Cecil) said during Senate floor debate on the housing code issue. "What we should have an opportunity to do is govern ourselves."