The Special Session Five

Call them the Special Session Five. Senators John Astle (D-Anne Arundel), Ed DeGrange (D-Anne Arundel), Roy Dyson (D-Calvert, Charles, St. Marys), Rona Kramer (D-Montgomery) and Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) are five Democrats who, through a bit of procedural legerdemain, enabled Governor Martin O’Malley’s 2007 special session tax increases—the largest in Maryland history. Come this November their decision could come back to haunt at least three of them at the polls.

All five of these Democrats voted against the tax increases on the Senate floor, which passed the chamber 24-20. All five publicly opposed the tax increases. Astle wrote to one constituent “I am not comfortable voting for any increase in taxes. The state needs to look at ways to better manage spending.”

However, that was not the vote that counted. In fact, they could have stopped the tax increases cold by voting against cloture.

Instead the five, or Senate President, Mike Miller’s poodles as the Washington Times called them, voted to end the Republican filibuster—by one vote—thus paving the way for O’Malley’s $1.4 billion tax increase. Astle, DeGrange, Dyson, Kramer, and Zirkin had hall passes to vote no on the final bill because Miller already had the votes to pass it without their support, thus giving them a patina of political cover.

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In other words, they were for the monstrous tax increases before they were nominally against it.It just so happens that the GOP needs to pick up five seats to ensure the ability to mount a filibuster. Given the electorate’s anti-incumbent/anti-tax mood, three of the Special Session Five’s cloture votes make them vulnerable targets.

Kramer and Zirkin are in solid Democratic districts and in 2006 won their seats with 70% of the vote. Astle, DeGrange, and Dyson’s seats however, are in more conservative districts and could be three of the five GOP pickups this fall. Ron Elfenbein an emergency room doctor from Annapolis is challenging Astle in the 30th district and former Marine Corps. aviator Steve Waugh is challenging Dyson in southern Maryland’s 29th district. If the Republicans can find a credible challenger to run against DeGrange, could be the third pick up in the 32nd district.

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