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Assessing the Legislative Session


Despite a thin legislative agenda and a delegation almost evenly divided by party, Howard County's representatives in Annapolis this year emerged as a group whose influence belies the county's modest size.

Among the county's heavy hitters were two key figures in the Republican Party and former Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo. But since the most prominent of these are Republicans, the county has limited impact on matters both statewide and local in a legislature still dominated by Democrats.

Much criticism could be made of the delegation's scant accomplishments -- only two bills that deal strictly with Howard County. But that would be to focus too narrowly on the delegation's role in parochial affairs, which is always limited, and would ignore the generally slow pace of this transitional session as a whole.

Among Republicans, the county's delegation proved a font of experience and influence. Republican Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman and Minority Whip Robert L. Flannagan are veterans of Howard politics and were instrumental in keeping Republicans largely united on key issues. While they dominated the early weeks of the session, they were ultimately unsuccessful in pushing a 6 percent reduction in state taxes.

Meanwhile, Del. John S. Morgan, as a ranking member of the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, was instrumental in producing legislation that would have significantly restricted what elected officials could receive from lobbyists. The Senate later amended the bills to make them less stringent.

The fact that Democrats have a majority in the General Assembly was of little benefit to Howard County, where all the elected Democrats are freshmen. That fact kept them largely out of the limelight as they struggled to acclimate themselves to the ways of Annapolis. Still, this is hardly a collection of political novices; it includes Ms. Bobo, former County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass and political science professor Frank S. Turner.

Howard's delegation continues to suffer from a lack of coordination between Republicans and Democrats, as well as with county government. But Howard County fields enough talent to play an even more prominent role in Annapolis in the future.

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