Rick Impallaria and the tragic lack of shame in Maryland politics

Maryland’s Republican Party has finally put in a formal resolution for what has been apparent to anyone paying attention for the last 17 years: Rick Impallaria is “unworthy of the title Delegate.” We would have thought this was obvious before he was even elected, when The Sun reported on the charges of assault with the intent to murder he faced years earlier from an incident when he tried to run down his mother and brother with a car. Or maybe when he was arrested in 2016 for trying to get into and start his illegally parked pickup with an open container of alcohol during the Maryland Association of Counties meeting, which was the 53rd moving violation of his driving career. The recent events that prompted the state GOP’s resolution — an illegal, misleading, morally repugnant and disloyal robocall his campaign placed against his Republican district-mate, Del. Kathy Szeliga, and then a defamation suit against three Baltimore County Republican Central Committee members who discussed asking him to resign during a meeting — are really just the cherry on top of his unworthiness sundae.

But Mr. Impallaria is digging in. He brushed off the call for resignation, saying he has “no concern about it.” And the sad thing is, we shouldn’t be surprised about that. He’s just the latest in a long line of Maryland politicians who have exhibited a tragic lack of shame. It’s not a partisan thing; both Republicans and Democrats in this state have behaved badly without feeling at all bad about it, and we the voters keep letting them get away with it.

The most obvious recent example is Mary Ann Lisanti, the Harford County Democrat who was censured by the House this year for her use of the n-word in a gathering with colleagues at an Annapolis cigar bar. She was stripped of her committee assignments, meaning her ability to represent her constituents is badly compromised. A stunning range of people and organizations, from Gov. Larry Hogan to the NAACP, called on her to resign, but she would not. And she wasn’t the only shameless House Democrat this year. Del. Jay Jalisi of Baltimore County was reprimanded based on a 16-page report by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics documenting his abusive behavior toward staff. He brushed off the investigation as “a nasty smear campaign and a sham investigation by a powerful lobby in Annapolis.”

Two years ago, then-Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, a Democrat, showed up on the floor of the Senate the day after he was indicted on corruption charges, and he continued to show up all through the legislative session last year despite being stripped of his committee assignments and urged to resign by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and others. (He eventually did, on the eve of his guilty plea.) In 2017, then-Del. Dan Morhaim, also a Democrat, was reprimanded by the House for falling far short of transparency about his dual roles as a legislator working on medical marijuana policy and as a consultant for a firm looking to profit off the new industry. Afterward, he issued a three-page non-apology in which he blamed the media and insisted that he “did nothing wrong.”

We could go on and on. Former Sen. Ulysses Currie, a Democrat, was tried on charges related to his failure to disclose outside consulting work that he blended with his legislative duties. His defense was, essentially, that he was too dumb to be corrupt, and he got away with it. Former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, a Republican, was charged with misconduct related to his use of county employees for personal or political tasks, some of them decidedly gross. He was found guilty on two counts of misconduct but remains unrepentant, insisting he was the victim of a “wrongful conviction and a punitive sentence.” Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, was convicted on one count related to the theft of gift cards meant for poor children at Christmas, but that was hardly the only thing she did wrong. When she resigned, she did not apologize, and she has not since managed to convincingly articulate an understanding of what she did wrong.

Really, for all the opprobrium heaped on former Mayor Catherine Pugh since the onset of the Healthy Holly scandal, she’s a real outlier for resigning without having been charged of a crime (much less tried), for admitting to having done something wrong and for appearing to actually regret it.

Mr. Impallaria did hit on one important point when he said it's up to his constituents to decide whether he stays or goes. The fault for all this shamelessness in Maryland politics lies heavily in the laps of the voters. They keep re-electing Mr. Impallaria, despite his obvious shortcomings and the presence of much better options. While under federal indictment, Mr. Currie ran for re-election unopposed. Ms. Dixon nearly won another term as mayor in 2016, and now some people are whispering in her ear that she should run again in 2020.

The Rick Impallarias of the world continue to act shamelessly because they think they can get away with it. All too often in this state, they’re right.

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