Control of the Anne Arundel House delegation was thrown into flux last week when a pair of Republican delegates filed a lawsuit to overturn a vote that allowed the Democrats to maintain their majority on the committee.
The Anne Arundel Circuit Court is likely to decide today whether to accept or reject the case filed Friday by freshman delegates to the Maryland General Assembly Herb McMillan and Don Dwyer and the Republican Central Committee. They are all trying to have the vote overthrown on the grounds that it is a violation of the one man, one vote principle, which demands proportional representation.
At stake are the voting powers of three delegation Democrats whose district lies mostly in Prince George's County. Previously, a rule had given the three delegates one combined vote. But with the Republicans in a position to take over the delegation after several unexpected victories in the general election in November, the Democratic members of the delegation quickly moved to give the Prince George's delegates -- Barbara A. Frush, Pauline H. Menes and Brian R. Moe -- one vote apiece.
Not having yet taken office, the newly elected Republicans were not allowed to vote on the matter, but two outgoing Democrats who had been defeated in the election and a third who had been redistricted out of Anne Arundel were able to cast their votes.
At a stroke, the decision changed what would have been a 7 to 6 Republican majority into an 8 to 7 Democratic majority, sealing their power to elect the delegation's chairman and set its legislative priorities.
The Republicans were furious, arguing that the Prince George's delegates, who together represent only about 24,000 Anne Arundel county residents, should not hold the same amount of voting power as delegates whose districts are wholly in the county. The Republican delegates would like to reinstate the old rule, which was approved in April by a majority-Democrat delegation.
"We're turning over 20 percent of the control of the delegation to delegates who represent 5 percent of the population," said Del. James E. Rzepkowski (R-Anne Arundel), who is not a party to the lawsuit but said he supports it. "I think it's very politically damaging to the Democrats, and it does leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth."
Del. Mary Ann Love (D-Anne Arundel), the delegation's chairman, would not comment on the suit on the grounds that it was in court. She referred comments to Robert Zarnoch, a lawyer with the Maryland Attorney General's office who will represent the state in the suit. Zarnoch, who is confidant of victory, said he would seek to have the case dismissed.
"We don't think there's any merit to it," Zarnoch said. He referred to a case in Georgia that appeared to reject the notion that the one man, one vote principle applied to county delegations.
The attorney representing the Republicans, John Greiber, said he had a court precedent of his own, this one from South Carolina, which he said supported the one man, one vote requirement. He also claimed that the action broke a rule that the outgoing majority may not prevent the incoming majority from addressing an issue.
In the meantime, Love has postponed the meeting to elect the delegation's new chairman to Monday, by which time the dispute should be resolved.
McMillan, who gained a reputation for outspokenness as an alderman on the Annapolis City Council, was even more forthright than his incumbent colleagues, defying one of the unwritten customs of the State House dictating that freshman delegates should do more listening than speaking.
"I'm not a doormat, and I don't think that type of corruption should be allowed to stand," he said.