A day after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pleaded for legislative civility in his State of the State address, a verbal smackdown broke out on the Senate floor - hardly the resurgence of "good will" the governor was hoping for.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Dorchester County Republican, aimed a tirade at Baltimore County Democrat James Brochin, who sponsored an emergency bill that could effectively quash a billion-dollar development in Colburn's district.
In a verbal assault in which Colburn quoted Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin and coaxed himself aloud to keep his cool, the senator berated Brochin for the bill, which, he said, could cost Dorchester County a desperately needed economic boost.
"I'm gonna try to remain calm. It's difficult to do," Colburn began at the close of an otherwise mundane Senate session. "It's difficult to know if local courtesy really exists anymore."
He continued: "I'm telling myself not to take it personally, but maybe I'll just put a few liquor bills in for Towson or something like that."
Brochin's bill would prohibit development on conservation areas located within 1,000 feet of a major tidal tributary.
If it passes, the legislation would block the construction of the $1 billion Blackwater Resort, a 3,200-home subdivision with a golf course and conference center planned for Cambridge.
The development is proposed for farmland and wetlands near the entrance to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, one of the region's largest wildlife preserves.
The bill is "emergency" legislation because the Cambridge City Council has scheduled a public hearing Feb. 9 on whether to change the zoning of part of the development site from a "resource conservation area" to an "intensely developed area."
"The city and the county agree on this development - they're in total agreement," Colburn said with exasperation. "Now somebody is gonna put a bill in to stop the project? Somebody who knows better than the citizens of Dorchester County?"
As he continued to passionately defend the development and poke at Brochin, Colburn stressed - repeatedly - how he was going out of his way to respect the Senate's rules of decorum. Others, he preached, should follow his example:
"We need to treat each living senator with the sensitivity we instinctively use to treat each senator who has passed away."
"I'm gonna try to treat everyone with respect this year - even reporters."
And, quoting Franklin: "Dirt may stick to a mud wall, but not to polished marble."
"The senator from Baltimore County is not my enemy," Colburn said at the peak of his lecture. "We're gonna be friends. I'm just gonna try to defeat his bill. Despite what's gonna transpire with this bill, I'm gonna try not to be a vengeful person."
After Colburn took his seat, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller complimented the senator's diplomacy, saying, "Your remarks did the Senate good, senator."
Brochin wasn't so impressed.
He stood on the opposite side of chambers to return fire at Colburn. Brochin said his proposal did not violate the legislature's long-standing practice of local courtesy - where senators defer to colleagues representing a city or county on matters affecting just that area.
"I didn't just put a bill in to hurt the senator from Dorchester County," Brochin said. "This wasn't Democrat versus Republican. This was a policy issue, and it was clear to me."
Brochin said that last fall he sat down with Colburn to discuss Blackwater, telling him that he was going to oppose the development.
His "mistake," he told the chamber, was originally submitting a bill that would only prevent the planned Cambridge development. His current bill would protect wildlife areas statewide.
"I'd hoped we could agree to disagree," Brochin said. "And we did until this moment on the floor."