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Eye on Annapolis

The Daily Record's Maryland state government blog

Politics taints Zirkin’s fracking win

For a supporter of a ban on fracking, Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement of support Friday should have been a win.

But you can’t take the politics out of politics and at least part of Hogan’s comments directed at Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. left Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin bitter about his invitation to stand next to the governor as the announcement was made.

Sen. Robert A. "Bobby" Zirkin (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

During the announcement, Hogan criticized Miller and other Democrats for backing a plan that would have extended the current moratorium and placed the issue on the ballot in November that would allow each jurisdiction to vote on whether the controversial natural gas extraction process would be legal in each respective county.

The bill was seen as a fallback position given that Hogan was widely believed to be prepared to veto any ban sent to him.

Zirkin can be seen during Hogan’s announcement looking puzzled and then irritated and later shooting looks at Del. Robert Flanagan, R-Howard, who is standing behind him.

Following the meeting, Zirkin, who is one of four committee chairs appointed by Miller, was asked if he was angry about what transpired.

“Am I frustrated? Goddamn right I’m frustrated,” Zirkin said late Friday. “It’s like, frustrated at the system.

“Yeah I’m angry,” Zirkin added. “Of course I’m angry. I’m angry in general at politics in general. That was ridiculous. I’m excited that the governor of the state has seen the light on the issue of fracking. That is the important part — to stop this from happening. All this ‘Who struck John’ junk that happens in inside-baseball politics doesn’t make a bit of difference to the people in Garrett County and Allegany County who are trying to protect their lives. It doesn’t matter and it didn’t belong there. We’re supposed to be about doing the right thing and that’s it.”

Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Monday that Hogan and Zirkin “have a great relationship” and the governor’s happy that it appears he will be successful on an issue he cares deeply about.” She said Hogan’s statements on Miller were based on reports published in The Daily Record.

“No one ‘used’ Senator Zirkin for anything; he was asked if he wanted to be a part of the governor’s press conference and he agreed,” said Chassé. “There were no pre-agreed talking points on either side. The governor was asked a question and he answered it honestly.”

Following the announcement, Zirkin was in the Senate looking for Miller or his staff to discuss what had just happened.

Zirkin is not the only sponsor of a fracking-ban bill. Similar legislation in the House of Delegates, sponsored by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, passed by a vote of 97-40 nearly two weeks ago.

Fraser Hidalgo was not present at Hogan’s announcement.

“I would have not been there had I known any of that crap was going on,” Zirkin said of the comments directed at Miller. “I’m not interested in that crap and they know it. Everybody who knows me down here knows I don’t engage in it. I don’t care about it. I only care about doing the public policy. I was told this was an announcement that the governor was jumping on board with a ban on fracking and I was asked to speak about the health effects of fracking. That was it. That was the only thing that should have been talked about there.

“This is about protecting the citizens of Maryland from public health effects and environmental effects,” Zirkin added. “It is very hard, unfortunately, these days to be doing policy and focus on public policy and to keep out politics. I know the governor and the Senate President are — I don’t know anything about it and I don’t care. I don’t care about the specific comments. They’re factually incorrect about the Senate president and members of the General Assembly who have been fighting hard, hard for this, for a ban on fracking.”

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