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February 5, 2007

General Assembly Journal 2007 - Volume 3

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Be Happy, but Worry!! - I borrowed those words from Warren Deschaneaux, the General Assembly's lead policy analyst. When I think of Warren, I'm reminded of the old E.F. Hutton commercial. When Warren speaks, everyone listens.

During the Ehrlich Administration, Warren was the voice of future doom, constantly predicting dire consequences in the out years if new revenue sources or major departmental budget cuts weren't identified.

Last Wednesday was the day identified for the State of the State speech, the chance for our new governor to unveil his policy agenda. Since he'd only been on the job for two weeks, he couldn't really look back over his tenure.

Mr. Deschaneaux's pithy quote came during a committee budget briefing that followed the State of the State speech by about an hour. He is not impressed with Gov. Martin O'Malley's first budget submission. In fact, the full quote from Warren deserves your attention: "The message from the governor on the budget seems to be" Don't worry, be happy. I think the real message should be: Be happy, but worry!"

By wiping out all but the minimum reserve portion of the Rainy Day fund, Governor O'Malley has a balanced budget that spends $700 million more than the state will take in. Warren would rather see a big tax increase or major spending cuts. Maybe next year!

I thought the O'Malley's speech was a good one, as political speeches go. Good tone, excellent use of emotion and sentiment, and well-delivered. Governor O'Malley reminds me of former President Clinton in his speech delivery.

If you go online to review the text of the governor's speech (, you'll see that he mimics another Clinton trait. During several of President Clinton's big speeches, he made minor deviations from his prepared remarks to fit the moment or audience.

In his State of The State speech, Governor O'Malley avoided the use of the word slots. If you look at his text, there it is, bigger than life. He makes a point about having to deal with tough issues, like taxes and slots. He mentions taxes, but when he came to the "S" word, he hesitated, then jumped right over it.

Another Clinton likeness came towards the end of the speech. As he was wrapping up, he was making a point about how we all needed to come together to get work done. To hammer home the point about how easy we have it, he mentioned a Maryland family that was at that moment gathering to bury a husband and father who died in a helicopter shot down in Iraq. The only thing missing was the Clinton trait of biting his lower lip; but I have to admit, the described image worked.

The GOP spin machine directed minority party members to go on the attack, belittling the speech for lacking substance and inspiration. I thought it had good measures of both, so I wasn't a good little party spokesman. One thing I didn't like was a reference to the state "drifting for the last few years."

The governor was making the point that now that the Democrats were back in charge, the ship of state could once again plow forward. Unfortunately, only an idiot or partisan would buy the line.

This so-called "drift" is responsible for the largest rate of economic growth in our history, for creating more jobs in the four-year period than ever before, continuing to fund the Thornton initiative without a dedicated funding source, a groundbreaking commitment to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and last, but not least, producing the very billion dollar surplus that Governor O'Malley is using to balance his first budget. Some "drift", huh?

Another set of comments that piqued my interest dealt with issues important to organized labor. While running for governor, Mr. O'Malley made a couple of big promises to his big labor backers. He fulfilled those promises in his speech, as he committed to the passage of a bill requiring that all workers in a union workplace be required to pay union dues, whether or not the workers chose to be represented by the union.

A second big promise was to establish a "living wage," or an hourly wage that reflects more closely the cost to live in today's economy. The living wage rates that have been established around the region reflect an hourly wage of $10 or higher. In his speech, our governor renewed his commitment to the passage of a living wage.

a.. * * * * * * * * *

Last week, I promised to discuss some social issues and election reform. The constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage will be back, and we'll spend more time than is warranted arguing back and forth about it.

A truly goofy battle is shaping up over extending discrimination protection to transgender, transsexuals, and cross-dressers. Yep, that's right. The Maryland General Assembly will be fighting over extending protections for people that face discrimination for skin color, disability, or gender to people who like to dress up in the clothes of another gender or choose to undergo surgical alteration. Wonder what's next?

The Assault Weapons Ban is back, sponsored this time by a freshman senator from Montgomery County. The logic is confounding, that if we take assault weapons away from law-abiding citizens, then gun violence will decrease. No serious person buys that argument, but that won't stop the progressives.

Immigration will be an issue again, with Republicans and conservative Democrats arguing for driver's license and voting privilege restrictions for illegal immigrants, while liberal and progressive Democrats will try to grant access to in-state tuition and housing protections to those same people.

On elections, the pressure will be on once again for early voting. Democrats are convinced that more Democrats will be elected if polling places stay open longer; Republicans think voters are smart enough to take advantage of the existing accommodations, like absentee balloting.

Sixty-eight days left in the session, and the clock is ticking.


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