So you're an up-and-coming Democrat in Montgomery County, thinking of taking on Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), and then she goes and votes for campaign finance reform and against President Clinton's impeachment. What do you do? You take a pass.

State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Montgomery), who has been in the legislature since 1990, has decided to do just that. He isn't up for reelection in the General Assembly next year, which meant he could have run against Morella without giving up his seat.

"I seriously considered it," he said. But he added: "I think Connie Morella is very tough to beat. It's a tough race any year, and this year it might be tougher than usual. You don't have the Gingrich Congress to rally against."

His decision means that lawyer Ralph G. Neas, who ran against Morella last year, is the only Democrat currently planning to take on the popular Republican.

Marriott Malcontent

When J.W. Marriott Jr. decided to extend the lease on his hotel company's Montgomery County headquarters last week, there was much hoopla--many state and county officials were thrilled a major corporation was staying put.

There also was much grumbling--many other state and county officials were angry that it took lots of tax breaks to get Marriott to stay. Put Del. Leon G. Billings (D-Montgomery) in the second category.

In a letter to Marriott--which Billings supplied to reporters this week--he told the hotelier that it would be hypocritical for him to attend the festivities.

"You may recall that I frequently and publicly criticized you and your corporation for blackmailing the county and the state to pay you to remain in Montgomery County," Billings wrote.

"As a liberal Democrat, I firmly believe that government ought to be a source of a hand up, not a hand out. Your company didn't need a hand up, so it demanded a hand out.

"So much for laissez faire. Obviously, the Marriott Corporation only supports capitalism when corporate socialism isn't more profitable."

So there.

New Veterans Administrator

Maryland has a new Department of Veterans Affairs and now it has a new leader, Thomas E. Bratten Jr.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) appointed Bratten, who lives in Friendsville, last week. He takes the job Oct. 1, when the new department officially opens.

Bratten has been active in veterans issues for a long time, serving most recently as director of the Maryland Veterans Commission. One of Maryland's most highly decorated veterans, Bratten is a retired Army captain who was disabled in his service in Vietnam.

The department was formed by the legislature during this year's General Assembly session and combines the state Veterans Commission, the Veterans' Home Commission and the War Memorial Commission.

"Tom Bratten is a real American hero who has dedicated his career to improving the lives of both veterans and disabled Marylanders," Glendening said.