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Republican senator says Senate president is bullying him

* Updated Thursday morning with better campaign contribution numbers and a link.

Republican Sen. Andrew P. Harris received a letter yesterday from the Democratic Senate president asking him to fire his chief of staff by Friday -- a directive that Harris called "Chicago-style" bare-knuckles politics.

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Miller's stated reason for requesting the termination of Kathy Szeliga is that she is a candidate for the House of Delegates this fall and therefore cannot continue to work for the state legislature.

Harris believes Miller's move is a nothing more than a political power play. The outspoken Baltimore County representative, who is running for Frank Kratovil's congressional seat this fall, is pushing a number of measures aimed at scaling back state lawmaker pensions. The Senate this morning refused to give Harris an extra day to make technical fixes to an amendment he hoped to offer that would put lawmakers into a 401k-style pension system.

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"The coincidence is stunning," Harris said of the timing of Miller's request. "This has come completely out of the blue."

Miller this morning disputed that the allegation that his request of Harris was about politics. "He's politicizing a personnel matter that I have absolutely nothing to do with," Miller said. He called Szeliga a "good friend" whom he had once asked to work for him.

The Senate president also said he'd received a complaint about the Szeliga situation weeks ago, long before the pension debate emerged. The complaint came from the Democratic Central Committees of Baltimore and Harford counties.

Miller's letter to Harris, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, states that Harris must terminate Szeliga because she is "in violation of the personnel policy's prohibition against employees of the legislature running for State legislative office." Miller refers to an attorney general's opinion he obtained.

Harris and Szeliga said ethics and human resources officials told them weeks ago that she could keep her chief of staff position until actually filing as a candidate, which she has not done.

From the Maryland General Assembly personnel policy:

Harris calls the attorney general's opinion bogus and say he is talking with attorneys about his options. He says he won't fire Szeliga.

Although she has not filed with the State Board of Elections, Szeliga has made a number of moves that affirm she is a candidate. She has an official campaign web site and registered a campaign committee last May so that she could begin accepting donations. She'd raised $13,000* as of January.

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Harris says there are "different standards for different people" in the state legislature.

A similar situation arose last summer, when Lisa Baugher, a legislative aide for Delegate Rick Weldon, a Frederick County Independent, sought a waiver of the personnel policy.

Baugher, a Democrat, had announced she would challenge Republican Sen. Alex Mooney of Frederick for his seat. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch sought guidance from the attorney general and, after receiving it, told her she wouldn't be granted a waiver.

Weldon has since left his seat. Baugher dropped out of the race, according to the Frederick News-Post, choosing instead to stay on as legislative aide to Weldon's replacement, Del. Charles Jenkins, a Republican.

* Szeliga's campaign account stands at about $43,000 after totaling not only contributions, but loans and ticket sales. A blog for the Maryland Democratic Party has an assessment of what it sees as other problems with Szeliga working for the legislature while running for office.


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