Maverick, Bipartisan Labels Dubious Fit for 1st District Candidates
By Christopher Weaver
Capital News Service
Friday, Oct. 24, 2008
WASHINGTON - Voters in the 1st District will choose between a self-proclaimed maverick Republican and a Democrat with bipartisan billing on Election Day, but the self-stick labels peel under scrutiny.
State Sen. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, argues he is a true conservative, but one who's stood up to party leadership in the state Senate and in unseating incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville.
Frank Kratovil, the state's attorney for Queen Anne's County, says he is a moderate Democrat who's worked with both parties, citing an appointment in former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration.
But a Capital News Service analysis of Maryland Senate voting records shows Harris is more lone wolf than maverick, often standing to the right of his party, while the GOP presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, earned his maverick title departing party lines for consensus.
Kratovil, elected to office in a majority Republican county, relies on the 2003 Ehrlich appointment as sound-bite evidence for his bipartisanship, but interviews and Maryland laws show Ehrlich's signature was incidental to the appointment.
Harris called himself a maverick and invoked the Republican presidential ticket during a Sept. 30 debate at Salisbury University.
"I'm proudly running as part of the McCain-Palin team," he said. "Senator McCain and Governor (Sarah) Palin say that if you elect them, you'll be sending two proven mavericks to Washington."
"If you elect me, you'll be sending three."
The analysis shows Harris voted with his party on all but two of the 52 bills rated most important to the public by Project Vote Smart over the last three sessions. He voted with Democrats only when the majority of Republicans voted that way, too. The selected bills were reviewed by a panel of 200 experts from both parties, a Project Vote Smart spokesman said.
In the two exceptions, Harris rejected a bill labeling crimes against the homeless as hate crimes when the majority of both parties supported it. Also, when Republicans split on the 2008 state budget, which Democrats supported, Harris and six of the 14 Senate Republicans voted against it.
Looking at all 2008 bills, in many cases Harris stood alone, voting to the right of his party, the leadership and all members.
For instance, only Harris and State Sen. Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, voted against a bill requiring certain residential child care facilities to adopt a "Resident Bill of Rights," including the right not to be abused. He dissented alone on a bill allowing the Department of Housing and Community Development to sell mortgages.
"I don't think you should pass bills just because they sound good," Harris said in the debate.
The Senate Republican leadership recognizes that Harris doesn't always fall in line. The recently appointed minority leader, Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard County, said, "Senator Harris always does what he thinks is right regardless of whether it is a Republican position," calling him a principled leader who's willing to buck party pressure.
In an interview earlier this month, Harris campaign manager Chris Meekins noted voter integrity issues as "a perfect example" of Harris working across the aisle.
"He's going to work across party lines when it's in the best interest of the district," Meekins said.
Kratovil has no record of crossing the line, Harris and Meekins both said.
The Harris campaign did not return messages seeking comment this week.
In Salisbury, Kratovil responded to Harris' criticisms, noting his appointment "to the Maryland State Board of Victim Services by former Governor Robert Ehrlich," as he has on other occasions to bolster his bipartisan credentials.
"The difference between you and I," he told Harris, "is I hit with facts, and there's no way to rebut the votes you have taken in all of these issues."
Facts don't wholly support Kratovil's argument, either.
Kristen Mahoney, the current executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention who is responsible for the board, said Kratovil filled the "state's attorney's seat."
"Whenever I have a criminal justice seat that's open, I reach out to (the president of the State's Attorneys Association)," she said.
Kratovil was elected president of that association in 2005, while still in his first term, though he did not hold it at the time of his appointment.
The Maryland Annotated Code requires the board to include "two state's attorneys, recommended by the attorney general." At the time, the attorney general was J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat who is Gov. Martin O'Malley's father-in-law.
But it wasn't Curran who picked Kratovil for the spot, either.
"The practice has been that those names typically come from the Association of State's Attorneys, and that was in fact the case for State's Attorney Frank Kratovil," said Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for the governor's office.
The association, Adamec said, "recommended him to then-Attorney General Curran, and the attorney general recommended him to the governor that same month."
Ehrlich, who signed the letter officially appointing Kratovil, did not reply to requests for comment on the appointment.
"If at that time Governor Ehrlich believed that I was so partisan you can bet he never would have appointed me," Kratovil said in a recent interview. He said the board was part of a larger trend, including his endorsement by Gilchrest and other Republicans, and his work as the president of the State's Attorneys Association.
Kratovil stood by his centrist message, saying "I think that what we need are people who are able to work across party lines, who know they don't have all the answers, and who know that neither side has a monopoly on the truth."