Scott Brown, whose supporters chanted “41” on Election Night, will provide the U.S. Senate Republicans with a cloture-proof minority of 41 Republican Senators, if and only if they stick together. That is not guaranteed.
Still, on most issues, having 41 Republican Senators will mean that the Democrats cannot invoke cloture to cut off debate. In other words, the Republicans will be able to filibuster bad legislation to death.
Filibuster is a parliamentary procedure whereby a minority can delay legislative action on a piece of legislation, by giving long speeches. The filibuster continues from day to day until the majority relents or persuades one of the minority to switch sides. No other legislative action can be taken by the body until the filibuster ends. If the majority does not have the votes to end the filibuster, their only option to end debate and continue with legislative business is to send the controversial legislation back to committee to die.
Cloture, too, is a parliamentary procedure, whereby a filibuster debate is ended and a vote on the matter at hand is called. In order to end debate, you need to have the votes. In the U.S. Senate, the magic number is 60. In the Maryland Senate, the magic number is 29.
In Maryland, the Republicans need to pick of five (5) seats to be able to filibuster effectively. It used to be that 17 was the magic number, until Senate President Mike Miller and the majority party changed the Senate rules in 2003 to increase that number to 19.
Currently, there are 14 Republican Senators. So, are there five seats that Republicans could win in Maryland to have a cloture-proof minority of 19? There are several seats being held by self-described conservative Democrats:
1. John Astle (Anne Arundel County)
2. Jim Brochin (Baltimore County)
3. Ed DeGrange (Anne Arundel County)
4. Roy Dyson (Southern Maryland)
5. Kathy Klausmeier (Baltimore County)
6. Ed Kasemeyer (Baltimore and Howard Counties)
7. Norm Stone (Baltimore County)
In 2006, the Republicans had well-qualified and well-funded candidates, but they were unable to beat any of the incumbents listed above. Two other Senators are in conservative-leaning districts: Senator Thomas Middleton and Senate President Mike Miller. The reality is that turnover to the Republicans in these districts, if at all, might not be able to happen until the incumbents leave.
Another seat in Howard County which is held by Senator Jim Robey, was occupied by a moderate Republican, Sandy Schrader, who was defeated by Robey in 2006.
While it is unlikely that Maryland Republicans will win a majority in either house of the General Assembly any time in the near future, a more realistic goal is to try to pick up 5 seats in the Senate.
So, what will be gained by a cloture-proof minority? At that point, the Democrats would have to negotiate with the Republicans. As it is now, Maryland Democrats can pass whatever they want to pass, similar to the U.S. Congress prior to Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. In Maryland and in D.C., a cloture-proof minority will allow for legitimate debate of opposing viewpoints.
Critics will contend that a cloture-proof minority would lead to gridlock and nothing will get done. Sometimes, doing nothing is often preferable to passing bad legislation. The ideal, though, is that after legitimate debate, the majority will account for the minority’s concerns and get something accomplished for the people they represent.