Things get tense in Annapolis this time of year, and our public officials are going underground, meeting in private to hash out issues away from the prying ears of the good citizens of Maryland.
They've been taking their cue from the General Assembly's fiscal leaders, who have been meeting in private the whole session -- unsuccessfully so far -- to craft a budget plan that can get enough votes to pass.
Last Monday, Prince George's County senators retreated to a private meeting to approve a controversial bill prohibiting local county officials from accepting campaign contributions from developers.
In addition, members of the Legislative Black Caucus kicked visitors out of their meeting that night.
Then, on Wednesday, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee went behind closed doors to meet with a group of visitors. The group? The University of Maryland Board of Regents, which also is covered by the state's open meetings law. Sort of a "two-fer" closed meeting.
It's a gamble
To no one's surprise, the Senate Finance Committee quickly killed a proposal to allow video lottery machines.
The lottery agency didn't want the bill, and the sponsor, Sen. Larry Young, D-Baltimore, didn't bother to show up for the hearing last week -- even though he's on the Finance Committee.
Although racing industry lobbyist Alan M. Rifkin won the battle, he may have lost the war when he testified against the video machines, saying that more legalized gambling would hurt his clients.
Of course, he also has testified in favor of off-track betting.
"I can't believe you have the g - - - - - - - - gall to come down here and oppose any gambling," shouted Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles Co.
"It's blatant greed," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore Co. "You guys made a big mistake."
No, it's not
The Finance Committee ultimately approved the off-track betting bill, as expected. The panel did a quiet little favor for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.: It doubled to four from two the number of racing days at the old Marlboro Race Course, now known as the Prince George's Equestrian Center.
The non-profit center is in Mr. Miller's district and has been one of his pet projects. The Marlboro track, of course, was the focus of the scandal that ended Gov. Marvin Mandel's political career.
A star is born
Who would have guessed?
Del. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, a mild-mannered Democrat from Montgomery County, has something in common with a very important star -- Elizabeth Taylor.
Del. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, revealed the connection on the House of Delegates floor Thursday.
"You all know that today is Elizabeth Taylor's birthday, but what's not widely know is that she rented Disneyland for Delegate Teitelbaum's birthday," he said.
In fact, Mr. Teitelbaum and Ms. Taylor did celebrate their birthdays on Feb. 27, albeit separately. The delegate is a year older than the movie star.
The similarities end there.