Chairmen Wield Power, Influence on Assembly
An article in The Capital entitled Chairmen Wield Power, Influence on Assembly that talks about the issue of direct wine shipping.
By Liam Farrell
Successful legislation is often built on sweat and circumstance, a product of hard work
and the right politicians pushing for a change in the law.
For winemakers and wine lovers, the 2010
General Assembly session showed both
ways the legislative pendulum can swing,
with the culmination of years of effort to
reform Maryland's winery regulations but
another delay on eliminating the ban on
shipping wine directly to consumers.
Their priorities were aided - or, some say,
hindered - by Del. Mary Ann Love, D-Glen
Burnie. She not only chairs the local House delegation but also leads the House's
Alcoholic Beverages Subcommittee, placing her at the head of the line for scrutinizing
Subcommittees are one of the first steps in the legislative process. In them, small groups
of politicians gather to tap into a bill's benefits and flaws. Although the subcommittees
take on specific areas of legislation such as pensions, banking and minority health
disparities, their chairmen and chairwomen are the wonky links in the chain of power
threading through the presiding officers.
Like the chairmen of full committees, the leaders of subcommittees often find
themselves laden with the mantle of hero or villain, savior or obstructionist, depending
on the fate of an individual's priorities.
"It is an interesting job," said Love, 70 years old and a member of the House since 1993.
"I got a lot of bruises, but I am a big girl."
Love was the House sponsor of the Maryland Winery Modernization Act, which clarifies
previously arcane and conflicting statutes by creating a single statewide license for
wineries, allowing them to sell at farmers' markets and ending restrictions on such things
as having tables and chairs for customers.
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, described it as a
"complete reformation … bringing the laws into line with the evolution of the industry."
"We really have been in an unstable legal situation. Every day a winery was open to
inspection and all kinds of liabilities."
Love said she helped arrange meetings before the session between representatives of
the wine industry and alcohol retailers and wholesalers in order to work out their
disagreements on the bill.
"The best thing we did … was to bring both sides together," she said. "It is interesting
down here (in Annapolis) … how much you don't know about one another."
Atticks said Love proved to be an "invaluable resource" in such cases.
"She was an advocate early on in this process," he said. "It was Chairman Love who
really pushed forward."
This process is emblematic of how Love says she tries to approach her job in leading a
subcommittee and the local House delegation.
"I like to bring people together," she said.
But there can be a fine line in public perception between consensus-building and
unending delay - as can be seen in the continuing debate over whether to allow direct
wine shipping to customers.
The House version of that failed bill had 80 legislators as sponsors, a majority of the
chamber that included politicians as disparate as the conservative Republican Del. Don
Dwyer of Glen Burnie and Del. Tom Hucker of Montgomery County, once the executive
director of the liberal advocacy group Progressive Maryland.
But several important names were missing, including Love's, and advocates for the bill
said legislative leaders were enslaved by alcohol lobbyists. They dismissed arguments
from distributors that the bill could lead to underage drinking.
In a resignation statement in March, Adam Borden, former executive director of
Marylanders for Better Beer and Wine Laws, said the resistance in this year's General
Assembly session, which ended earlier this month, can be traced to this being anelection year.
"Our leaders fear angering what is arguably the most generous political patron in the
state at a time that every incumbent delegate and senator desperately needs campaign
funds," his statement said.
The rhetoric has cooled a little since then, although Paul Hoffstein, who took over for
Borden as MBBWL's interim executive director, placed some of the blame for the bill's
defeat at Love's feet.
"She has been a problem and consistently a problem," he said.
Love's own campaign finance reports open the door for such criticism.
In September 2009 alone, she received more than $2,000 in contributions and ticket
purchases from groups and businesses associated with the alcohol industry, according
to the Maryland State Board of Elections. Contributors included Bay Ridge Wine and
Spirits, owned by County Councilman Charles Ferrar, the Maryland Beer Wholesalers
Association and Anheuser-Busch.
The power of committee and subcommittee chairmen also has become an intense target
of scrutiny this year for advocates in areas such as sex-offender and drunken-driving
laws. These advocates have focused on the way one powerful person can stop what a
whole chamber may want.
"The committee system tends to attract people who are against things," Hoffstein said.
"The numbers are on our side. The system is not on our side."
Delay with purpose
Love disputes this, saying that when it comes to her votes or the contributions to her
campaign accounts, there is no reason to think she is doing anything unusual or
She also believes lobbyists can provide valuable information for busy legislators whose
duties involve many different subjects.
"The idea that all lobbyists are bad is another bad idea too," she said. "It is just the way
the process is."
Love said her primary concern during the session was passing the modernization laws
because all parties agreed on them. She insisted that she had no ideological opposition
to direct shipping. But trying to take up a controversial bill could have endangered the
"Both sides should have a fair shot at everything," she said. "I won't have it any other
Chairmen wield power, influence on Assembly
way, because you won't get anything done."
Next year could be the turning point for the direct wine shipping bill. Love and other
legislative leaders have said in public and in conversations with advocates that it will be
"I made them a promise," she said.