Heroes are on stage in AnnapolisHaving it both ways is a...

THE POLITICAL GAME

March 24, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Heroes are on stage in Annapolis

Having it both ways is a political reflex, and the Maryland General Assembly just offered a classic example.

First, senators climbed gallantly to the moral high ground in opposition to gambling. They voted to kill keno. Easy for them, said the House of Delegates. Senators were dumping a revenue-raiser without regard to the $100 million hole that would be left in the budget if keno were canned.

Had the House joined the Senate in its war on the newest lottery game, the House would have had to identify budget cuts of $100 million and take the villain's rap for throwing infirm Marylanders into the streets. So, delegates did what they told themselves was the responsible thing and suffocated the keno bill in committee.

Then it was payback time.

The House voted to kill the legislative scholarship program. Delegates could do this with additional glee, since they get only a fraction of the scholarship dollar.

Over the course of a four-year term, senators get $480,000 in pure patronage. They ladle out the money from the moment they are elected to the moment they run for re-election. No one doubts the power this money packs -- not even members of the House, who never tried so hard to reform the program until the Senate made them take the heat on keno.

But, wait. Just as the keno killer died in the House, a Senate committee disposed of the scholarship reform measure. Both sides may think they walked away with a bit of glory: Senators opposed gambling; delegates opposed politicized scholarships.

But nothing changed -- and you have to wonder if change was really the objective.

The scholarship program's survival may mean that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has decided not to run for statewide office next year. If he were running, wouldn't he have reached for the good-government hat and helped to kill the program?

"He wants to be the Senate president again," said one of his associates. "And he knows his members want the scholarships -- whatever they're saying to reporters."

Then again maybe he can be a hero next year, crafting his own version of a reform bill -- when the voters might still remember on Election Day.

The roar of the crowd

Something there is about politics that doesn't love issues.

Something always gets in the way: negative campaigning, 30-second sound bites and, now, fear of the IRS.

Idea forums were to be the vehicle for Attorney General Joe Curran's early 1994 gubernatorial campaign. The future of Maryland would be discussed at a series of five seminars, beginning tonight at 7 in Mudd Hall, Homewood campus, the Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. Curran calls the series "Maryland 2000" -- and does not demur when the whole thing seems ever so slightly political. But it's more than that, he says. "We have to get away from the idea of electing people who can raise the most money. We need people with ideas. The idea is not just to get elected but to solve problems."

Such high-minded politics could hardly last. Fearing a threat to their tax-exempt status, educators at Hopkins backed out of their sponsorship of tonight's forum.

"We concluded that the event just resembled too closely a political event," said Ross Jones, secretary and vice president at Hopkins. He said that university officials learned last week that the event was being paid for by "Friends of Joe Curran," a political campaign committee.

Until then, Mr. Jones said, the university thought the event it was co-sponsoring with Mr. Curran was apolitical. But Mr. Curran said: "I can promise you that everyone knew what 'Maryland 2,000' was all about."

So now Mr. Curran will pay several hundred dollars in rent for the use of Mudd Hall and say at the outset of the program that Hopkins is not involved.

Then, the police chief of Charleston, S.C., Reuben Greenberg, will speak on community policing. A panel will discuss his ideas.

Look for Mr. Curran in the audience. He says he's looking for "a new departure." And he had planned one even before this flap. He won't be on the panel. He won't be on the stage at his own event. Departure, indeed.

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