House Speaker Mike Busch has a solution for partisanship — eliminate those pesky elections.
On Oct. 7, this column highlighted the efforts of partisan Democrats, led by Carl Snowden, to elect Claudia Barber to the Circuit Court. There was a push in both the primary and general election for Democrats to single-shoot for Barber.
Barber applied for a seat on the bench during the administrations of governors Parris Glendening and Martin O'Malley. Neither Democrat appointed her. Snowden was quiet then — he does not rock the boat when Democrats are in charge. He makes noise only when Republicans are in charge.
Now that Republican Larry Hogan is governor, Snowden and company made electing Barber an issue of race, sex and party unity. They pressured Busch to get him to back Barber, despite his earlier principled position of supporting appointed judges because they had gone through stringent vetting.
Busch flip-flopped before the election, tossing aside principle to support Barber because she is a Democrat. In response to being roughed up by the left, the speaker has figured out a way to keep out of that trap in the future: eliminating elections for Circuit Court judges and making them uncontested retention elections. He blamed Republican partisanship, of course.
Busch is no stranger to partisan politics. He played a key role in redistricting in 2002 and 2012, which changed Maryland's congressional representation from four Democrats and four Republicans to seven and one, respectively. He allowed Anne Arundel County to be carved up like a Christmas turkey and split Republican-leaning legislative districts 30, 31 and 33.
In spring 2002, the Anne Arundel County legislative delegation voted for the next cycle's delegation membership. Since only 5 percent of District 21 is in Anne Arundel while 95 percent is in Prince George's County, Prince George's got one vote in Anne Arundel's 13-member delegation. When Republicans won seven of 13 seats to take the majority that November, Busch engineered a lame-duck session of the delegation to expand its membership to 15 — and claim a Democratic majority — by adding two more delegates from Prince George's County.
When then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich was about to appoint the majority on the state Board of Elections, Busch and state Senate President Mike Miller realized Ehrlich could replace their ally Linda Lamone as director of the board. So Busch and Miller rammed through a party-line bill to strip Ehrlich's power to appoint the director.
When, in 2006, electric rates were going to reset to market rates under a 1998 law drafted by Enron lobbyists, Busch and Miller restructured the Public Service Commission in order to shift blame from them to Ehrlich.
When Anne Arundel Republicans pushed for an elected school board in 2007, Busch gutted their bill and created a Rube Goldberg nominating commission stacked with his cronies. When Republicans won the governorship and county executive in 2014 and were able to make appointments — and get a majority even in a rigged game — Busch re-rigged the system to add more cronies and oust duly appointed members.
Even though Barber lost in the Circuit Court race, Busch wants to eliminate elections for those judges. In truth, this is not about Republican partisanship. It is about protecting Democratic appointees.
Since 2002, a handful of Glendening and O'Malley appointees have lost at the polls, and that won't do. Busch doesn't want uppity voters having a say on the judges who decide whether or not a felon gets released into their communities. Their betters will make those decisions for them.
We just saw a national election in which Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders actually agreed on something: The system is rigged. Mike Busch should absorb from this election the lessons of what can happen when people get fed up with politicians rigging the system for their own benefit.
Michael Collins is a regular columnist for The Capital and a longtime Republican Party figure in Anne Arundel County. Contact him at MichaelCollins.Capital@gmail.com.