"You're walking through a minefield every single day to avoid possible conflicts of interest."
Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Senate president who made that comment about legislators, understated the dilemma in the case of Sen. Larry Young of Baltimore. By appointing Mr. Young chairman of a health-care subcommittee, Mr. Miller guaranteed that Mr. Young would be a walking conflict of interest every time he casts a vote, makes a decision or opens his mouth about health care.
Yes, Mr. Miller is correct that in a part-time legislature, elected officials inevitably run into situations where their private lives overlap with issues they confront in the General Assembly. But Mr. Miller placed Mr. Young in a post where the overlap and conflict are ever-present.
The problem is that Mr. Young works as a top aide to Willie Runyon, who owns one of the state's biggest private ambulance companies. Mr. Young's job is to drum up business from firms that also appear before his subcommittee either to support or oppose health-care legislation. No wonder a number of these firms have hired Mr. Runyon's company to provide ambulance service.
Mr. Young's legislative position is enriching his boss' business. And at the same time, Mr. Young has no qualms about holding "salute" fund-raisers where health-care companies feel pressured to make big campaign contributions to help Mr. Young get reelected (in a district where the incumbent faces little real opposition).
But there's more. Mr. Young owes $55,000 to three people in the nursing home business -- an industry that seeks Mr. Young's backing for bills that go through his subcommittee. Just last week, he and his subcommittee approved a bill that would mean $19 million more to nursing homes -- and $19 million less in the state's treasury.
These conflicts are glaringly obvious to everyone, apparently, except Mr. Young and Mr. Miller. It is a public embarrassment for the Maryland Senate. And yet it persists.
Given Mr. Young's job of soliciting business from health-care providers, he should never have been placed in a legislative position with power over health-care bills. In fact, the senator should have studiously avoided such blatant conflicts by requesting assignment to a different committee.
Mr. Young -- and Mr. Miller -- can't have it both ways. If Mr. Young wants to continue to work in the health-care industry, he should give up his subcommittee post and request reassignment. And Mr. Miller should admit that he made a mistake in placing Mr. Young in such a conflicted position by taking corrective action. The integrity of the Maryland Senate is at stake.