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Tardy, absent, unexcused in Annapolis

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Which Annapolis lawmakers work hard for the voters and which are hardly working?

This week, as legislators got back to work -- or rest, as the case may be -- a watchdog group called the Maryland Accountability Project handed out "Crabbie" awards to those it says had the worst attendance records last session. "Lighthouse" awards went to those with the best.

Among the Lighthouses was Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who says he has never missed a vote in three years in office.

"Last year, I had food poisoning. I ate something in the snack [bar] thing, I ate a tuna fish sandwich. I got brutally ill," Brochin said. But he still didn't skip any votes, casting them "in between running to the bathroom."

As you might imagine, folks in the Crabbie category weren't pleased. The group says Del. Joanne Benson, a Prince George's County Democrat, missed 146 votes, more than any other legislator.

"I probably have missed votes," she said. "There are mornings -- I have an 87-year-old mother at home -- and there are mornings when I am late getting in here."

But Benson says she couldn't have missed that many. "If I missed 146 votes, I should be ashamed of myself," she said. "I shouldn't even be down here."

I wish I could tell you whether Benson and the other Crabbies (Dels. Jill Carter and John Arnick, former Del. John Hurson and Sen. Ulysses Currie) really deserve them. But neither the House nor the Senate compiles a list of unexcused absences. The Accountability Project says it plowed through records of more than 1,000 votes (some bills get voted on multiple times) and counted each time a legislator who didn't have an excused absence was listed as "not voting."

Who would take the time to do that?

A bunch of good-government geeks with nothing better to do in their spare time, according to Doug Graham, one of the wonks.

"We're self-funding," he said. "We got a $10 donation once. We all have real jobs. Believe you me, there would be no money in counting up this stuff. We're just interested in making sure we have a good, accountable, democratic -- I mean 'democratic' small 'd' -- government."

All of the Crabbies were Democrats, and Graham has GOP credentials good enough to get the conspiracy theories spinning in Democratic-dominated Annapolis. He hosted a talk radio show on WRCG in Columbus, Ga., was a speechwriter for Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and works in the Bush administration's Labor Department.

But Graham, who lives in Linthicum, points out that Republicans and Democrats alike were honored with Lighthouse awards. House Speaker Michael Busch won one. Ditto for Del. Anthony Brown, who is running for lieutenant governor on Mayor Martin O'Malley's ticket. And Brown missed the whole session.

Brown qualified for the award because his absences were all excused. The Army Reservist was in Iraq.

Asked, and answered

At a City Council meeting this week, Councilwoman Helen Holton called for a hearing to investigate whether new laws are needed to control paintball and pellet guns in Baltimore.

At the same meeting, she also introduced a bill. It proposes a new ordinance prohibiting paintball and pellet guns in Baltimore.

That group, you know, that does the thing

Paul Schurick, Ehrlich's communications director, needed to be briefed before he briefed reporters Tuesday night about the governor's stem cell research proposal, which would funnel $20 million to a group called TEDCO.

Asked by a reporter what TEDCO stands for, Schurick had to sit down at his computer and Google it, a reporter who was there tells me.

TEDCO, Schurick discovered, stands for Maryland Technology Development Corp., which falls within the state Department of Economic Development.

Democrats stage a short run

Laura Bush had her cameo on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. So who'd be surprised to see Gov. Robert Ehrlich -- who plays Mr. Fix It in state tourism ads -- show up in Extreme Makeover: Maryland Edition?

Ehrlich, for one. Because the "show" is the creation of Doug Duncan's gubernatorial campaign, which mocks the governor's recent largesse in areas such as property taxes, higher education and school construction.

"The season premiere takes a look at the transformation of Gov. Bob Ehrlich from Right Wing Robert to Bankroll Bobby, the phony election-year moderate," says a news release from Duncan's campaign. "The critics agree Ehrlich's Extreme Makeover is bad made-for-TV political theater that should not be renewed for a second season."

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