Brushing up on your polspeak; Primer: With the General Assembly about to begin a new session, it's time to update that lexicon of Maryland politics.


WITH THE NEW term of the Maryland General Assembly beginning tomorrow, it seems appropriate to provide an updated lexicon of the political parlance of the state.

To wit:

Arm-breaking: Lining up "the votes" persuasively, the old-fashioned way. Used to ensure leadership gets what leadership wants.

Bell-ringer: A bill or amendment proposed to the legislature to exact favors and money (as in ringing the cash register bell) from those whose interests are threatened by the legislation.

B'hoys: Originally the Irish ward heelers of the large Eastern cities such as Baltimore. More recently, it has referred to leaders of political organizations, factions and even clubhouses who command the muldoons (see below).

Capital budget: The state's annual salute to pork.

Dead: Used to describe a bill that is no longer viable, at least for the moment. Such legislation can be miraculously resurrected, however, and in the final days of the session can walk again among the living without waiting the customary three days to do so.

Dead Dead: Really dead. Legislation that has had a stake driven through its heart, at least for this year.

DOA: Dead on Arrival. Used to describe legislation whose time has come and gone by the time it lands.

Empty suit: An elected official or bureaucrat of little or no substance.

Furniture: A subspecies of legislator for whom the red and green lights on the vote-tally board were invented, replacing the ever-confusing "yea" and "nay."

Green Bag: Political patronage appointments made by the governor on the 40th day of the legislative session. They are delivered in the traditional green bag to the Senate, on which the Maryland Constitution confers confirmation authority. Not to be confused with what a "bagman" carries, though historically the two have not been mutually exclusive.

Leadership: The Senate president, speaker of the House of Delegates, their committee chairpersons and all their minions with titles.

Given Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s penchant for inclusion, this ever-expanding list is expected to constitute a majority in the House this year.

Lieutenant governor: A term, while referenced in the Maryland Constitution, that no one has been able to define.

If the current keeper of this title succeeds in winning the No. 1 spot in 2002, it would be a first for the state.

Lobbyists: Once defined as "the people you hire to protect you from the people you elect."

Muldoon: A loyal foot soldier in a political machine with generally limited intellectual capabilities. Originally defined as "a straight organization man" who will "vote right" and "stay hitched."

Patronage: Your tax dollars at work to spread the wealth. These are hundreds of posts and jobs -- some paying, some not -- that are considered plums and paybacks to political favorites. They are used to shore up alliances and the governor's political power structure.

Red-headed Eskimo: A bill that appears to be broadly worded but in fact is designed to affect -- and generally to benefit -- only an individual or special interest. It is derived from the notion that a red-headed Eskimo is a rarity, if not an impossibility, and would stand out like a sore cliche if you looked hard enough.

A red-headed Eskimo (or Inuit, for the politically correct) should not be confused with a "snake," another type of bill whose intent is also hidden in its language, but by definition is harmful to an individual or public interest. Snakes tend to slither from under rocks in the final days of a legislative session.

Sine die: Latin for adjournment without recall; the last day of the 90-day legislative session. It has been translated loosely, beginning on about the 65th day, as meaning "This is without end" and, closer to the finale, "If this doesn't end soon, I'm going to die."

Summer study: Legislative limbo where bills are sent to die -- or be raised from the dead for the next year's session.

White hat: A term used to describe a "shiny bright" or good-government "goo-goo," as well as legislation sponsored by same. It is the opposite of "black hat."

A sine die tale involving Baltimore County Del. John S. Arnick best exemplifies both. In the early 1970s, Arnick appeared on the House floor wearing a white suit, tie, shoes and hat to work a bill -- white hat legislation -- that required additional financial disclosure by elected officials. Within the hour, he was back on the floor dressed completely in black to push a bill giving oil companies a tax break. (Both bills passed.)

A final note

With this column, your correspondent ends a five-year run of filling this space on a more or less regular basis to become an editor at the Baltimore home office. The Political Game will continue Tuesdays, but will appear under another byline.

The column, under this authorship, has been an attempt to spotlight the players and would-bes in the three rings of Maryland's political circus and offer readers some insight into what is generally an insider's game.

Sometimes it involved snippets from the campaign trail; other times, musings on the sport, its self-important scoundrels and slackers, and its indefatigable do-gooders. Other times, it endeavored to be a good story about regular folks -- like a very opinionated West Baltimore shoemaker or a woman who opened her East Baltimore rowhouse every election year as a polling place.

Hope you've enjoyed it. It's been a good ride here. Thanks much for reading -- and cheers.

Pub Date: 1/12/99

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