Volume 14, Issue 47 ~ November 23 - November 29, 2006

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

To the Victor Go the Spoils

Let’s hope victorious O’Malley doesn’t spoil our natural resources

Politics begins at home.

—Thomas Philip O’Neill, 1912-1994

The above words were the trademark of the astute politician Thomas Philip O’Neill, from whose lips I heard them spoken 26 years ago when he was the speaker at my daughter Turee’s graduation from Assumption College.

I only wish that Tip O’Neill, Democrat and long time Speaker of the House of Representatives, was still around to explain why politics didn’t begin at home in the recent election, when it went the other way.

The way I read it, national issues — the war in Iraq, unsavory politicians and stem cell research — shaped state and local voting.

Now we’re witnessing new faces and their transition teams planning changes, as is consistent with politics’ traditional game of musical chairs. Meanwhile, the citizenry is held in suspense.

My Post-Election Jitters

My pet interests are the bay and other waters, forests, the environment including global warming, clean air, public lands and waters and hunting and fishing. As our new governor and his transition team saddle the donkey for a four-year ride, I get jittery.

My pet peeve is that whenever a politician attains a high office his/her byword is I need my own team.

That’s what we now have, following a rough-and-tumble campaign with much love lost between Democratic governor-elect Martin O’Malley, mayor of Baltimore, and outgoing GOP guv Bob Ehrlich.

For the past four years, the administration of Gov. Bob Ehrlich treated Maryland’s hunters, fishermen and many Bay watchers kindly. Now what?

I’m concerned the good times could be over.

Natural Resources in the Balance

I do know enough about the incoming chief executive that if I stored in my basement a now-legal assault weapon that I used for target or big game shooting, I’d be mighty nervous.

I would also be nervous if I were Ron Franks, current Department of Natural Resources Secretary, which brings up another disturbing point. During the Glendening administrations prior to Ehrlich’s, there were four DNR secretaries: Torrey Brown, John Griffin, Sarah Taylor-Rogers and Charlie Fox, double the number in the previous 25 years. Bob Ehrlich had one, Franks. All thinking is that O’Malley will replace him. To the victor goes the spoils, and in Baltimore politics cronyism is the way to go.

Consider this: With Natural Resources’ secretariat treated as a revolving door, how in tarnation can we get any continuity in programs so badly needed in Bay and fish and wildlife management? This isn’t something that can be accomplished in months or a few years. It requires time for programs to gel, then be implemented, administered and fine-tuned to get the bugs out.

For more than a decade, DNR has become the department to which governors dump into upper-echelon jobs their political allies to whom they owe favors. Not infrequently those are not fully qualified, nor with particular expertise or background to do the job of fostering programs that would benefit us and the environment. It’s on-the-job training, but as soon as the new face begins to fit in, presto! It’s gone.

Bob Ehrlich made a quick switch at the top of DNR. Then he stuck by his changes, which methinks a governor should do if the personnel is qualified — qualified professionally, not politically.

With the Department of Natural Resources, the guv is dealing with scientists whose goals and programs depend on science. Ehrlich promised us that within DNR, science would rule, not politics, not public opinion. And he pretty much lived up to his promise, though some programs and policies probably played a role in his defeat. To the citizenry at large, Sunday deer hunting, opening Western Maryland to bear hunting and the flush tax cost him votes. But they were endorsed by the scientists.

Who’s Next?

Incidentally, Candy Thomson, outdoor scribe of The Baltimore Sun, suggested in her column prospects could include Mike Slattery, an assistant secretary who administers fisheries and hunting; Paul Peditto, chief of wildlife; and Eric Schwaab, who was canned as chief of fisheries in the Ehrlich administration. From other corners I’ve heard talk of bringing back Torrey Brown or Charlie Fox, both good choices if a change is made.

Meanwhile, I’ve not heard of anything wrong with the current boss, Ron Franks, other than he’s a Republican. But no one need be reminded how Baltimore politicians view those of the GOP. Throwing the baby out with the dishwater.

Truth or Consequences

Methinks a new governor should take time out from thinking how to satisfy political obligations, build casinos, implement more social programs, improve education (all worthy programs with the exception of politics) to visit with the upper echelon of DNR and listen to scientists to learn how things really are. And why. And how they can be improved.

Hopefully Martin O’Malley will realize this. If he doesn’t, allow me to remind him of the consequences of ignoring them Bay buffs.

For years, Democrat Del. Joan Cadden up my way had been unbeatable for reelection. She was a shoo-in until she got to thinking last summer that access to the Chesapeake for ordinary people like you and I via public boating ramps should play second fiddle to those with fancy waterfront homes who didn’t want to be bothered by intruders in their neighborhoods.

This created quite a flap up here in North County; when the votes were all in, she lost to Republican Don Dwyer, an underdog right-wing conservative with an oddball philosophy. Cadden fell 29 votes short. I’m betting the difference was the dissatisfaction of voters/boaters who wanted a chance to enjoy the Bay. Enough said.

Comments? burtonoutdoors@yahoo.com.

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