2 ex-governors decry partisanship

Maryland's two oldest living former governors decried the current high level of partisanship in Annapolis during a panel discussion yesterday hosted by a leading state business group.

Marvin Mandel and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer said the state capital is far different from when they served as governors from 1969-1979 and 1987-1995, respectively."Partisan politics is changing Maryland. There's no doubt about it. It's descending on us from Washington," said Mandel, 85, speaking to business leaders and General Assembly members at a breakfast meeting of Maryland Business for Responsive Government.

Mandel said that as a delegate from Baltimore and later House speaker, he served with two Republican governors: Theodore R. McKeldin and Spiro T. Agnew. But divided government then did not hamper decision-making as it does now, he said.

"The word compromise is slowly but surely passing from our political situation here in Maryland," he said.

After Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s election and the defeat of former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, a Democrat, in 2002, the makeup of state government changed drastically. Ehrlich ran into rocky shoals trying to get bills through a legislature controlled by Democrats, and his signature initiative - slot machine gambling - has been thwarted by new House Speaker Michael E. Busch. Busch and other Democrats say many of the governor's proposals have been poorly conceived, but the governor's allies counter that Democrats want to portray Ehrlich as unsuccessful.

The slots stalemate has also strained relations between Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, and has affected many other issues. Schaefer said yesterday that Miller and Busch should have been invited to the forum.

"You ought to have Miller and Busch, and say, `Why don't you get along?'" said Schaefer, 83. "I watch that partisan politics down there, and I get ill."

Mandel and Schaefer also both called on the General Assembly not to override Ehrlich's veto of a bill that would force Wal-Mart to spend more on health care. An override attempt is expected in January.

Former Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, 81, was moderator for yesterday's panel at the Center Club. Bentley ribbed Mandel and Schaefer about their ages.

"I'm in the antiques business on the weekends," she said, "so I know the real thing when I see it."


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