ANNAPOLIS – Sen. Alex Mooney vowed yesterday to fight till Senate rules were fairly applied after he and other Republicans failed to defeat a rules change to make filibustering by the minority more challenging.
Mooney, R-Frederick, led angry GOP senators in a stick-to-the-rules protest that soon reduced the session to a verbal brawl.
“We’re people who stand up for what we believe in,” he said.
Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery County, dubbed Mooney, Minority Whip Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, and Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset, a “tiny band of radicals,” and the trio adopted the name, sporting it on labels they wore on the floor.
The scene was a continuation of Tuesday’s acrimonious proceedings when the Senate approved changing the ratio of votes needed to end a filibuster from two-thirds to three-fifths. During that debate, Harris asked Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to step aside and let someone else manage the discussion.
Miller, D-Calvert, ignored the appeal and Mooney blasted the Assembly for allowing the president to flaunt Senate procedure.
“Clearly there are one set of rules for the majority and another set of rules for the minority,” Harris said after Wednesday’s session.
Mooney also questioned why black senators had supported the crippling of a measure that former black legislators had used to further their causes.
“We’re talking about a tactic that was used years ago,” African-American Sen. Nathaniel McFadden responded. “If we do need to have extended debate there are ways to do so.”
In a move of political tit-for-tat, the Republican coalition tied up the session’s agenda: invoking rules, pushing for the hearing of two procedure-related proposals and delaying the passage of bills.
“It’s going to be ugly in here,” Harris whispered to McFadden during a quick floor conference.
Mooney fired first, invoking the rules to deny Miller’s request to delay the reading of the journal.
“Some of us care about the rules,” Mooney said of his reasons for opposing the request.
Stoltzfus and Harris then stretched out the adoption of an energy efficiency standards bill into a tangled debate with Democratic Sens. Paula Hollinger, Brian Frosh and Paul Pinsky. The Republicans finally won a postponement.
Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, an energy bill sponsor, seemed stumped by the GOP’s obstinacy, saying “You can spite yourself if you choose.”
“This was so self-defeating,” Pinsky said later. “They really just wanted to slow everything down.”
Things degenerated further when Harris moved to strike the Senate rule mandating the president relinquish leadership of a debate on a member’s request, and then Mooney moved to appoint a Senate parliamentarian to address questions about the chamber rules.
Miller said he had not received Harris’ proposal and directed Harris to send the letter to the Senate secretary.
Frustrated in their debate, Mooney finally yelled, “Stop making (the rules) up as you go along, Mr. President.”
Miller gaveled him out of order, and the proceedings became a free-for-all with McFadden finally appealing to the body for a measure of decorum.
“We have a long and great history in this body of conducting ourselves in a certain fashion,” he said. “We can disagree but we don’t have to be disagreeable.”
Despite the ruckus, the Senate did conduct some business: making committee announcements and voting 32 to 14 to override the Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s veto on a bill to restore pensions for some child support enforcement workers.
When asked if the GOP’s campaign will impede the legislative work of the body, Harris said, “We have 90 days . . . I think the work of the people would be better done if we clear up the rule book.”
At the end, even the Republicans were somewhat divided.
“I don’t believe returning evil for evil is the right way to go,” Stoltzfus said.
Mooney, meanwhile, vowed to keep fighting until “all the rules apply to all senators.”