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No time for a Md. constitutional crisis

Fraser Smith Big

 

He’s much too feet-on-the ground and politically savvy to find any leadership qualities in Donald Trump — and he’s probably no follower of Sen. Mitch McConnell, either.

So what’s up with our governor heading for a constitutional crisis with the General Assembly?

He thinks the General Assembly’s been jerking him around. They have rejected or delayed confirmation of two Cabinet nominees, neither of which can be thought of as essential to government. Important and useful but not essential.

So, OK, you’re not going to take it anymore. We get it. Mess with me and I’ll mess with you back.

Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, says Gov. Larry Hogan can’t pay these worthies as he insists he will. (For a time, the brain trust couldn’t figure out who is the payor: Comptroller Peter Franchot, Hogan’s odd bedfellow ally, who said he would cut the checks, or Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who says she will not.)

So off we go to court for some boning up on what the state constitution demands. It’s an unusual circumstance, so perhaps thinking of the gang who can’t shoot straight is a bit overdrawn.

What does seem troubling, though, is the governor’s determination to flout the state Senate’s confirmation prerogatives. Governors, by custom and precedent, should have their way. But if politics intrudes, the governor should find a way to solve the problem short of defying the constitution as now written.

Having chosen not to do that, Hogan follows in the muddy footsteps of McConnell, who chose to deny a hearing to Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

No, it’s not on the same level. But little incursions on policy and practice can grow. The system, the rule of law, custom and patterns of practice should be honored. If they are not, the willful, political self-dealers will run roughshod. We will have no system.

Hogan’s popularity

Hogan may think he can do almost anything he wants. He can have a bit of a tantrum. Polling shows him at 67 percent or so approval by the voters. He’s got capital to spend. This is not the way to do it.

The spectacle of allowing pique to prevail seems all the more needless when Hogan uses his power smartly, even courageously, as he reaches out to Baltimore.

The city’s foundering under a tide of killings. Mayor Catherine Pugh needs help. The city needs the state for a variety of things, most of them financial.

The state — legislature and governor — have come up with $24 million or so to help balance the city’s school budget.

Now the governor chooses to get involved in what his political advisers must be calling a no-win effort. No one has yet offered a plan to stop the wanton killing no longer confined to bad guys killing bad guys. Are there any safe zones in the city? If you’re the governor, can you keep moving back? How does uninvolved, unconcerned sound?

The city may not have many strong backers among Hogan’s Republican, suburban and rural base. But these voters may not applaud a governor who fails to act as if Baltimore matters.

Working with Pugh

Doing what he’s doing is also the right thing to do if you are the governor of Maryland.

So, he’s in. He’s meeting with Pugh, who has been smart enough to help him in various mutual concerns.

And, of course, it’s important to recognize that neither Maryland nor its major city are getting help from the Trump administration. No help that comes close to addressing the major threats to health and well-being. Opioids, gun violence, income inequality — all continue with impunity, neglect or disdain.

The president focuses on saving his presidency and his son, now implicated in the Russia story. McConnell labors on in search of something he rejects — fairness and compromise.

Hogan becomes the concerned public servant in this group. He sees the reality as well as we can.

We’re on our own. Do we really have time for a constitutional crisis?

C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at smithfraser911@gmail.com.


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