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The Nose

Hot and Bothered

Posted 4/10/2002

It's always intriguing to the Nose how politicians balance combat and compromise. Angry attacks alternate with conciliatory slaps on the back after a middle ground is found. But lately rage seems to be getting the best of one Maryland delegate--Dana Lee Dembrow, Democrat of Montgomery County. The first clue was an acerbic quote attributed to Dembrow in a March 25 Washington Post article on anti-terrorism legislation pending before the General Assembly that would broadly expand law-enforcement powers. "I realize that this bill basically says you can tap someone's phone for jaywalking, and normally I would say, 'No way,'" Dembrow told the paper. "But after what happened on September 11th, I say screw 'em."

Language like that isn't likely to endear one to civil libertarians. One Baltimorean of such a stripe (and a casual Nose acquaintance), Mike Hughes, e-mailed the good delegate at his Annapolis office to tell him so, writing, "Your asinine remarks are absolutely repulsive to anyone concerned about civil liberties in this state and this country."

The free-thinking citizen's message got the fightin' legislator's dander up. Dembrow chided Hughes for being ill-informed, suggesting he read the bills in question "if you care to express an opinion about them in defense of crimes committed by foreign terrorist organizations." The ensuing flame war lasted several hours, with Dembrow again accusing Hughes of defending terrorists and Hughes perplexedly responding, "You keep twisting my words to make my patriotic defense of civil liberties equivalent to supporting terrorism. How can you possibly equate the two concepts?"

We were somewhat taken aback by the delegate's tone toward a voter, even one who doesn't live in Dembrow's district. The good old days of william donald schaefer's governorship notwithstanding, elected officials aren't generally in the practice of verbally assaulting citizens; it's just not good form. We were wondering if Dembrow's engine might be be running a little rich with testosterone when we read in the Post that he'd been charged on March 31 with hitting his wife, Suzette Diane Dembrow. The next day, Dembrow issued a formal apology--then went off and filed charges against his spouse, saying she is a former professional boxer who hit him first and goaded him into responding in kind.

Now, to paraphrase Dembrow, normally the Nose would say, "No way," to making a stink about a legislator's series of hastily written e-mails. But after what happened on March 31, we say screw him.

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