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Early primary forces legislators to juggle time Hopefuls miss work to look for votes


ANNAPOLIS -- When Sen. Albert R. Wynn asked last week that action on a Senate bill be postponed until Tuesday, the Senate president had only one question:

"Are you going to be waving a sign on Route 29 or will you be here?"

Mr. Wynn laughed and assured him he would be in Annapolis.

The exchange was good-natured, but not without bite. Mr. Wynn, D-Prince George's, a candidate in the 4th Congressional District, has been conspicuous by his absence during this General Assembly session.

As Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. alluded, he has spent much of his time campaigning under banners at intersections, trying to sandwich campaign appearances between his Annapolis duties.

But the campaign seems to have an edge in this tug of war for Mr. Wynn's attention. He has missed five of 28 sessions, although he was excused officially from one, and missed all but the final quorum call at a sixth. His absences from committees are even more frequent.

The problem, for Mr. Wynn and six other legislators in the primaries for Congress and U.S. Senate, is timing. Last year, the General Assembly voted to move the primary date up to March 3, which falls on the session's 56th day.

The overlap has made Mr. Wynn and others easy targets for their peers.

"Hard work, running for Congress," one senator remarked drily when Mr. Wynn once again missed a meeting of the Budget and Taxation Committee.

But the timing problem is more than fodder for punch lines. Mr. Wynn and other candidates complain of grueling 18-hour days. And some question whether constituents are getting all that their legislators have to give.

"I'm worn to a frazzle. I'm getting dizzy from turning my car around, going back and forth from Annapolis to the district," said Del. Dana L. Dembrow, D-Montgomery, also a candidate in the 4th District.

The other legislators doubling as candidates are John J. Bishop and Martha S. Klima, Baltimore County Republicans running for the U.S. Senate; John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, and Samuel Q. Johnson III, D-Wicomico, candidates in the 1st Congressional District; and Thomas H. Hattery, D-Carroll, running in the 6th District.

Except for Mr. Dembrow, who has a perfect attendance record, all have missed quorum calls, with Mr. Bishop leading the list. (The House of Delegates is stricter on such matters than the Senate, which will revise attendance sheets if members are locked out during the prayer, or have stepped out of the session momentarily.)

Asked if he supported the change in the primary date, Mr. Bishop said: "Probably stupidly I did. But I'm going to introduce a bill this year that would move it back to the third Tuesday in May. This has been horrendous."

Mr. Wynn talks about balancing his current job with the one he hopes to win as establishing priorities.

"It's kind of an extreme of what you normally do," said Mr. Wynn, who is the lead sponsor for eight bills so far this session, including two revenue bills.

As for missing committee meetings, where much of the legislature's real work is done, Mr. Wynn said he thinks that's a smart use of his time early in the session, when the more routine, departmental bills are heard. But doesn't he worry that Mr. Dembrow, his opponent in the race, might try to make an issue of their different approaches?

"Generally, our race has been pretty clean," Mr. Wynn said. "I haven't taken any shots at him, he hasn't taken any shots at me."

But Mr. Dembrow, whose congressional campaign has less money than Mr. Wynn's and is moving in a much lower gear, is clearly tempted by the idea.

"I have thought about it as an issue, because it's not fair to the constituents," the Montgomery County delegate said recently. "But I haven't done the research, and I would prefer to focus on other things."

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