By Adam Pagnucco.
Delegate Charles Barkley (D-39) has just given the most astounding interview by a member of General Assembly leadership ever seen by your author. In it, he broke the most important rule of Annapolis decorum there is: never throw your superiors under the bus.
Barkley is the Chair of the House Economic Matters Committee’s Alcoholic Beverages Subcommittee. In theory, that makes him the proximate point person on alcohol bills in the House. Some think of the alcohol industry as one industry, but in fact it is several, with the manufacturers, distributors, retailers, restaurants and several individual companies hiring their own lobbyists and making tons of political contributions. That makes for complicated politics which, among many other things, has produced the much-criticized bill punishing craft breweries. That bill has already caused one potential brewery owner to bail on the state.
The anti-brewery bill passed the House on a 139-0 vote. One source tells us, “When a bad bill passes on a vote like that, someone f____d up.” In an incredible interview with Maryland beer blog Naptown Pint, Barkley placed the blame on his superiors, specifically Economic Matters Committee Chair Dereck Davis and Speaker of the House Mike Busch. The whole interview is a massive scoop and a must-read, but the key passages are this:
“We didn’t know what was in the bill until the day it came in front of our committee for the vote,” Barkley answered. But was that due to the rush of the process, or was it an intentional screen being put up around the bill’s contents?
“I don’t think they were trying to give out too many details,” he commented…
“I honestly thought we were moving in the right direction with Nick Manis [MCA], Steve Wise [MSLBA legal counsel] and [Jack] Milani [MSLBA, Monaghan’s Pub in Baltimore]. We thought we were making progress, and we had the guys talking to us.”
Barkley then paused for a moment.
“All of a sudden, they quit talking to us,” he continued. “And then the [Economic Matters Committee] Chairman [Dereck E. Davis] said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”…
I asked him his thoughts on some of the statements by House members who voted in favor of HB 1283 that they now know it was a bad bill or that they were misled on the contents ahead of the committee vote that pushed HB 1283 over to the Senate.
“I would say absolutely they were misled. [The House] thought we worked out a compromise and this was it. We hadn’t,” he stated.
“Up until this point, I ran the subcommittee and I kept my chairman [Davis] informed. But this one left my hands. I’ve never had this kind of intervention before, until this year. I thought [Manis, Wise and Milani] were meeting with us. But I think we were getting too close to stuff they didn’t want. So I think they met with the Speaker and got things changed.”
Here is a sub-committee chair describing a major bill as a backroom, secret deal involving lobbyists, a powerful committee chair and the Speaker in cahoots to deceive the full House membership. Your author has never seen a state legislator entrusted with leadership responsibility go on the record in this way before. It is an almost certain firing offense.
Barkley has always been something of a maverick. Once a Vice-President of the county teachers union, he has not always been their best friend in Annapolis. In 2009, he was famously kicked off the Appropriations Committee and lost a subcommittee chair for defying leadership on the millionaire tax. In 2012, Barkley was one of a handful of MoCo Delegates to vote against the immensely damaging teacher pension shift, a top priority of Governor Martin O’Malley and the presiding officers. After losing the first vote, he introduced a floor amendment to the budget which would have cut the shift in half, which also failed. Considering this record, it’s surprising that Barkley acquired the alcohol subcommittee chair at all.
Barkley’s candor is likely aided by his apparent decision to leave Annapolis and run for County Council. We don’t know what the future holds, but we will say this: given Barkley’s iconoclastic ways, he would make an interesting County Council Member.