Ehrlich launches push for slots bill

E-mail urges supporters to contact legislators

`All-out ... lobbying campaign'

February 22, 2003|By Michael Dresser and Tim Craig | Michael Dresser and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has cranked up his political operation to push his proposal to install slot machines at Maryland racetracks, urging thousands of supporters to press their legislators to vote for his plan for expanded gambling.

About 10,000 Marylanders on the Ehrlich campaign committee's electronic-mail list received a message Thursday night urging them to "help Governor Ehrlich hold the line on taxes."

The governor's chief spokesman, Paul E. Schurick, called the message the beginning of an "all-out comprehensive lobbying campaign" for passage of a bill that he called "the administration's top legislative priority."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun misidentified the speechwriter for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. who wrote an e-mail message seeking support for the governor's plan to install slot machines at racetracks. His name is Richard Cross, not Richard Story.
The Sun regrets the error.

The two-page Internet message bearing the copyright of the Ehrlich for Maryland Committee urges supporters to tell lawmakers that "the only way to balance the budget without huge tax increases or devastating budget cuts is to approve Governor Ehrlich's VLT [video lottery terminal] proposal."

Video lottery terminal is the technical term used to describe the modern electronic versions of slot machines. The Ehrlich message entirely avoids the use of the terms "slot machines" or "slots" - calling them VLTs.

The Ehrlich administration is marshaling the sophisticated communications apparatus it developed in last year's campaign to bring pressure to bear in what is widely viewed as a must-win battle for the governor.

A woman who answered the phone at the Ehrlich campaign committee office said she didn't know anything about the e-mail, which carried the disclaimer that it was "not produced or distributed at taxpayer expense." She referred inquiries to the governor's press office.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said the message was composed by Richard Story, a speechwriter on the governor's staff, on his own time and his own home computer.

State employees are permitted to do campaign-related work as long as they don't do so on the job or using government equipment.

Schurick said that on Thursday the governor's press office, policy office and legislative office met to plan their lobbying effort. He declined to say what the administration plans next, saying it will become apparent in the week ahead.

"We have a very thorough and well-thought-out lobbying campaign," he said.

Schurick said the campaign will involve outreach to a variety of interest groups, including the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau, tourism officials, business leaders and the Maryland State Teachers Association.

"The Maryland State Teachers Association has a lot to gain and a lot to lose," Schurick said, referring to the state's need for money to finance a new education funding formula.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democratic ally of the governor on the slots issue, said Ehrlich's use of his campaign network to win legislative support was "good politics."

"Hopefully, they'll be contacting Republicans and Democrats," Miller said of Ehrlich workers.

The e-mail message did not meet with the unanimous approval of its recipients.

Kim Roman, a registered Republican who co-chairs the anti-gambling group NocasiNO-Maryland, replied with a message that Ehrlich should "retract this alert and tell the truth."

Roman took issue with the Ehrlich committee's message that "Governor Ehrlich promised to bring principled, accountable leadership to Annapolis. By eschewing old tax-and-spend solutions in favor of a new direction, he is honoring his commitment."

"What exactly is so principled about Ehrlich selling out to the gambling industry?" said Roman, predicting an increase in suicide, crime and abuse of children and spouses if gambling expands in Maryland.

The communications effort comes as the administration is considering revisions to its original slot machines bill, which allocated 64 percent of gambling proceeds to education.

Ehrlich aides were awaiting the results of accounting company KPMG LLP's analysis of the bill, which was criticized as unworkable by the horse racing industry.

KPMG, which was awarded the analysis contract this week, drew criticism yesterday from NocasiNO.

The anti-gambling group issued a press release calling for the immediate termination of the contract. The organization noted that the Securities and Exchange Commission charged KPMG with a $3 billion securities fraud last month over its auditing of Xerox Corp.

DeLeaver, Ehrlich's spokewoman, dismissed the group's demand as "ridiculous."

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