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The Tentacle


April 12, 2006

Governor Crothers, Meet Dan Rodricks

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Recently Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks wrote a remarkable column that may earn itself an Olympic honorable mention in the annals of populist political propaganda: “Legislators grabbed power to put public back in Public Service Commission (PSC).”

Mr. Rodricks’ erudite moment in journalistic rhetoric highlighted cherry picked, out-of-context tidbits of 1910 Maryland history in order to historically legitimatize the Maryland General Assembly’s sacking of the current Public Service Commission for following regulations promulgated by a previous slate of Democrat-appointed PSC commissioners, at the behest of a law passed by the Maryland General Assembly.

Huh?

All right, let’s try and explain it this way. Let’s start at the beginning.

One of the main architects of the 1999 electric industry deregulation legislation was Senate President Thomas V. (Mike) Miller (D. Anne Arundel). Seven years later, legislation that was once thought of as brilliant – has failed miserably. Stuff happens.

So, you are Senate President Miller. What do you do?

One option is to say: “Hey, it unexpectedly went south on us, but we are going to roll up our sleeves, work together and make it right.”

That would have been the statesman-like thing to do.

Or, are you going to triangulate and blame something – or someone – innocent, which has a relative inability to defend itself?

Hey, it’s Maryland; the party in power is a propaganda machine of unlimited supremacy along with the allied political writers of Baltimore’s Sun, which has approximately 1.2 million readers at its disposal.

Eureka. Let’s blame it on the PSC. Its role in this matter is little known or understood and its function is complex. We’ll reduce this to the simplistic and blame it.

The first act in this opera is for The Sun to introduce the PSC to the public and demonize it and its five commissioners.

Piece of cake: character assassination is a cottage industry with the political writers of The Sun. ("The PSC and the Office of the People's Counsel are set up to be independent agencies," Speaker of The House of Delegates Michael Busch {D., Anne Arundel} said. "And this dialogue from a lobbyist from the utilities company and the constant inferences to the administration continues to bring into question the agency's independence." March 18: “Schisler, industry advocate exchanged e-mails last year,” The Sun) {Editor’s Note: Kenneth Schisler is the chairman of the PSC.}

The next act is to verbalize that the PSC is to blame and to repeat it so often so that it has the imprimatur of actually being true. (“’The customers have to feel, however the rates are being set, that they are getting a fair shot and have confidence in the people who are setting the rates,’ said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the bill.” March 28: “Panel acts to oust PSC members,” The Sun.)

Act 3 came April 6, when Dan Rodricks keyboards into gear with historical context to further legitimatize the blame-game, by invoking the name of “a progressive Democratic governor (from 1910) … named Austin Crothers.”

The final act is for The Sun to follow-it-up until it sticks. (“But Miller said Maryland residents ‘have no confidence in the PSC,’” April 9: “Leaders dispute news of BGE pact,” The Sun)

All brings to mind the introduction of Volume 1 of the “Tercentenary History of Maryland,” which says: “History is not an exact science and cannot be. Man simply does not know enough to tell everything about anything… Documents do not necessarily tell the whole story about anything, or even the truth about it… Strangely enough, a great deal of the most sedate American narrative is unconsciously but none the less thoroughly permeated with the heroics of a past emotionalism…”

And so it is with Mr. Rodricks’ use of Maryland Gov. Arthur Lane Crothers (1908 to 1912.)

For decades before the 1907 election of Governor Crothers, Maryland was ruled by a ruthless Democrat political machine. That rule, considered at the time to be among the most powerful in the United States, essentially ended with the deaths of the Maryland legislature boss, Arthur Pue Gorman on June 4, 1906; and Baltimore City boss Issac Freeman Rasin in 1907.

It was in the resulting power vacuum – the duopoly bosses’ deaths – that Mr. Crothers was chosen as a compromise candidate for governor, chiefly because of the powerful Eastern Shore Senator John Walter Smith.

During the reign of this “progressive Democrat political machine,” Maryland resisted many of the social and regulatory reforms that were sweeping the country.

As far as Governor Crothers’ reforms, Robert J. Brugger, author of the same history of Maryland cited by Mr. Rodricks, writes, “… Crothers as a reformer profited from circumstance.”

When Mr. Rodricks refers in his column, to “The General Assembly of 1910 kept it simple and put "public" and "service" in the name from the start,” he fails to mention just which members of the public the Maryland Democratic machine had in mind at the time.

Oh, that’s right, Mr. Rodricks failed to mention the other “legacies” of the “progressive Democrats” at the time: the “Poe Amendment” and the “Digges Amendment.”

These two initiatives attempted to systematically and methodically disenfranchise African-Americans of their right to vote. They were both explored extensively on the same pages (420-426) in which Dr. Brugger also discusses Governor Crothers in his history of Maryland, cited by Mr. Rodricks.

Oops!

Even Dr. Brugger remarked: “It testified to the ambiguity in Maryland that the Crothers administration both emitted the Digges amendment and left behind a series of important reform acts.”

Back to the future; if the Democratic leadership disagrees with the law, rules and regulations put into place, that the PSC followed in making the decisions of which the same leadership disagrees, then change the law.

Sacking the PSC is not the way to do it. One can imagine that unambiguous history will not be too kind to the 421st session of the Maryland General Assembly, no matter what has transpired in this opera, by the time you read this.

And, oh – after the turmoil of the Democratic machine years and the Crothers administration, a progressive Republican governor, (Phillips Lee Goldsborough,) was elected. Conventional wisdom is that history will repeat itself.

Isn't that special?

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster Maryland USA. E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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