Volume 12, Issue 29 ~ July 15-21, 2004
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton
Sharing the Spoils of Victory

Lynn Buhl gets a new job

Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can be killed once, but in politics many times.
_Winston Churchill: 1920

Yes, politics can be exciting, and we’re finding that they can be ever so dangerous. Here in Maryland, there are more than a few who wonder whether our general, Gov. Bob Ehrlich, has a killer instinct when it comes to people and their jobs.

Then again, we also wonder whether all the killing is at the behest of his lieutenants, so that the general doesn’t really understand what’s going on on the battlefield. Which, of course, is even worse insofar as matters of the State of Maryland are concerned.

Though at times we can’t really fathom all the ramifications of politics, we understand that when a new administration takes over, changes will be forthcoming. We also appreciate the new general wants an appreciable number of new administrators to fulfill campaign promises, bringing about the promised changes.

Old Hickory’s Precedent
Old Hickory, a real field general, introduced that concept after he took over the reins of federal government upon defeating John Quincy Adams. You might say he cleaned house; his cohorts got jobs, and not just new jobs, but those that others had.

Other than his defeat of the British at New Orleans in January of 1815, Major General and later President Andrew Jackson is best known for the practice that roused the ire of Sen. William Learned Marcy. Four years after Jackson’s election in 1828, in a speech on the senate floor, Marcy vented his frustration: “They see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.”

Lynn Buhl’s Job Hunt
Back in present-day Maryland, we wonder if our general looks upon ever so many state employees who had jobs under previous administrations as the enemy. That we have cause to speculate. But we also know that Bob Ehrlich believes in magnanimity, a trait we’ve seen in his hunt for a job for Lynn Buhl.

For some curious reason, Buhl was his choice for secretary of the Department of the Environment. Wisely, the state Senate figured she didn’t have the credentials, and for the first time in I can’t remember when, the solons rejected a gubernatorial appointment.

Meanwhile, with the battlefield littered with the bodies of those who lost their jobs under victory’s spoils policy, the general and his lieutenants began the frenzied hunt to find a job for Buhl. Not just any job, but one with prestige, power and income.

Let’s say they were in the proverbial pickle. Buhl couldn’t be made a secretary — and not the type that answers the phone and takes shorthand. She had already been derailed on that track, and senators have memories like elephants. So, what to do?

After her KO at DOE, they found a for-the-time-being slot in the Department of Planning. Apparently that wasn’t enough. So, after months of scouring the landscape, they did what the previous governor did. They focused on the proverbial and real dumping grounds within state government: The Department of Natural Resources, which was riddled by cronies of Gov. Parris Glendening.

The top post there is held by Ehrlich-appointee, former Republican legislator and dentist Ron Franks of Queen Anne’s County. He has thus far done a credible job, so that job was out of the question, even had they dared challenge the Senate again. But how about deputy secretary? That wouldn’t require Senate approval.

Pete Jensen’s Job
Only trouble was that Pete Jensen was firmly entrenched in that post. He had been called back after being canned by Glendening to work with Franks to get things back on track. Like his boss, he was doing a credible job at a department where both budget and morale were skirting bankruptcy.

But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. While the governor was out of the country last May, it was decided that Jensen should be shifted to special projects for the department. He balked, chose retirement — and the department announced with regret that he was leaving.

Then the you-know-what hit the fan, and just in time for the governor’s return. It was the worst kept secret of the Ehrlich Administration; Jensen would be replaced by Lynn Buhl. What’s more, Jensen wasn’t retiring of his own choice. He’s not the type to step down when the department he served so long faces woes involving oysters, crabs and other Bay shortcomings. After all, he was credibly involved for more than a couple of decades in Maryland fisheries and nearly a half-century in federal and state service.

Legislators were irate; Jensen was the credible source when considering DNR matters. Commercial and charter skippers were no less angry, and many sportsfishermen aired their gripes. It was Jensen who battled so effectively to ensure Maryland got its fair share when national and regional managements divvied up fisheries’ quotas. He was at the forefront in beating back suggestions from states to the north that wanted a 24-inch minimum size for rockfish, which would have devastated the Bay’s summer rockfishing.

Then there was the matter of oysters. Who knew them like Jensen? He was and remains the key player in studies involving the introduction of Asian oysters to a Bay whose traditional oyster is in horrible shape.

Jensen had called their bluff, and they couldn’t switch horses in midstream.

Job Sharing
Read all you want in the daily press and in department news releases. The bottom line is that Jensen’s announced retirement was kaput; he would stay as deputy secretary. Now what to do with Buhl? No quitters, the general and his army decided there would be two deputy secretaries: Jensen for now and thereafter, with Buhl coming in September.

The initial announcement was that Jensen would be working only on oysters and things like Bay grasses; Buhl would handle the rest. But what about Jensen’s standing with members of the General Assembly? What about his credibility and effectiveness in coastal fisheries? How could a newcomer from Michigan do the job that Pete was doing in those vital areas?

Events within this mess change as fast as do rockfish hot spots in summer. But at press time, the bottom line is Jensen will remain active in areas pertaining to fisheries. That’s where he belongs.

I’ve not met Lynne Buhl. I hear she’s a nice lady and smart though her environmental philosophy is not in keeping with what Bay watchers desire. All this goes beyond her. The crux is the administration’s determination to give a job to an ally, qualifications aside.

Can the time come when DNR is no longer looked upon as a dumping ground? The department’s stewardship of the Chesapeake faces enough obstacles from nature and changing times without adding more via meddling to scuttle employee morale and effectiveness. What the department needs more than a five-cent cigar is continuity, and it hasn’t had that for a decade.

To the victor goes the spoils, but not infrequently the victors spoil the pie. Enough said …

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.