Former Maryland secretary of natural resources John R. Griffin is getting a firsthand look at some environmental issues from the other side of the political fence these days.
Griffin, unceremoniously ousted by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) last month, has accepted a temporary position advising U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican with a strong environmental reputation who represents the Eastern Shore. Although Glendening has a strong environmental record, Griffin said he wasn't "on the same communication wavelength" with the governor. Griffin said he's comfortable with Gilchrest, describing the former schoolteacher as a "good guy."
"Despite speculation . . . I am not changing my party affiliation," said Griffin, a Democrat.
The move makes political sense for Gilchrest, who, as Griffin noted, "has developed a pretty keen interest" in things green in recent years. It also makes sense for Griffin, who said he needs a paycheck to tide him over while he pursues a permanent job.
Griffin said he will be advising Gilchrest, now in his fifth term, on the role the federal government can play in environmental issues affecting Maryland's 1st Congressional District, which also reaches across the Chesapeake Bay into Anne Arundel County.
"We'll be looking at things like [the declining population of] crabs and oysters, land preservation and groundwater supply to see if there are ways the federal government can promote interstate cooperation," Griffin said.
He said he also will be setting up site visits where the congressman can be briefed by environmental specialists.
"John has shown true vision and leadership in his many years at DNR [the Department of Natural Resources], and I know that he will provide a wealth of knowledge and advice in my role as a federal legislator," Gilchrest said. "Often legislators are left to react to crisis situations, but with John's help and knowledge of environmental issues, I'm hoping to have a chance to look at Maryland's long-term needs."
One place Griffin won't be taking Gilchrest is Site 104 in the Chesapeake Bay north of the Bay Bridge where the Glendening administration wants to dispose of 18 million cubic yards of sand and silt dredged from Baltimore harbor shipping channels. Griffin supported the controversial plan during his tenure at DNR, while Gilchrest endeared himself to the environmental community by vigorously opposing it.
"That's the only issue I'm not going to do for him," Griffin said. "We agreed it wouldn't be appropriate for me to get involved, given what I did for the administration."
Duck, Mr. Speaker!
Here comes the latest rhetorical grenade lobbed by Del. Leon G. Billings (D-Montgomery) toward House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany).
In a fund-raising letter sent out this month, Billings writes of "an increasing split among Maryland's Democratic legislators between those who are more closely aligned with the national Democrats and those who are more closely aligned with conservative Republicans.
"Our Speaker is pro-life, pro-gun, anti-environment and anti-patients' rights. . . . It is difficult to distinguish the Speaker's agenda from the agenda of very conservative Republicans."
Billings, a longtime foe of Taylor's, noted that he was able to distribute $15,000 to Democratic candidates to help elect more liberals to the House. Although he's not holding a fund-raiser this year, he enclosed an envelope with his letter for those who want to help his cause.
At the beginning of the last session, Taylor tried to reach out to liberal Democrats in his early speeches, even going so far as to say he wanted abortion issues set aside because they were so decisive.
So much for outreach.
Bradley Finds Friends in Montgomery
Montgomery County isn't rolling over for Al Gore.
A small but enthusiastic group of elected officials, civic activists and (perhaps most important) fund-raisers announced last week that it will buck the county's Democratic establishment to support former U.S. senator Bill Bradley for president.
"You don't find people with political courage that often," Stewart Bainum Jr. said at the first official Bradley campaign unveiling in the state. "This is a rare opportunity to vote for someone who listens to his own voice, not those of pollsters and consultants."
Bainum, a former state senator and major Democratic fund-raiser, will hold a $1,000-a-ticket event Sept. 17 at his Chevy Chase home with a goal of raising $150,000. Helping him sell tickets will be Ray Schoenke, the former Washington Redskin who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, and Roger Berliner, a Washington lawyer who is coordinating Bradley's Maryland campaign.
About 20 people (reporters not included) attended the announcement at the offices of Blair Lee, a commercial real estate executive, local columnist and ubiquitous emcee at county political events. The few elected officials in the group said they were taking risks supporting the Democratic challenger when much of the county political establishment--including County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D)--plan a wholehearted effort for Gore.
County Council members Philip Andrews (D-Rockville) and Blair G. Ewing (D-At Large) and state Dels. Cheryl C. Kagan and Paul Carlson, both Montgomery Democrats, explained their support for Bradley by citing his positions for stronger gun control and a revised campaign finance system, as well as his long public commitment to addressing racial strife.
All said they would support Gore should Bradley fail in his upstart bid for the Democratic nomination. But not before taking a few swipes at the vice president--and Washington as a home town--without naming names.
"He has not been coddled with a life of privilege," Kagan said of Bradley. "He understands real Americans.
"Being with Bill Bradley is not the easy choice," she said later. "It would be safer to support the White House."
Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.