Putting the focus on slots showed a lack of vision

April 14, 2003|By David M. Anderson

WASHINGTON - The single worst thing about Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s slots initiative is that in his first year this was his big issue.

Slots is not the stuff of heroism.

Smart Growth was. Health care for all is. Creating new systems of transportation and communication would be.

But slots?

It's a loser of a concept for the making of greatness.

Ehrlich supporters will quickly point out that the governor's slots initiative was largely defensive since he inherited a huge budget deficit. Slots, like medicine, is part of the solution to a problem. This kind of reply is fair.

Moreover, Republicans will add that the Ehrlich administration is animated by the idea of returning tax dollars to citizens and shrinking the size of government. By so doing, they believe, Marylanders can enjoy greater freedom with their money. Thus, they can more freely decide how to provide for themselves and their families.

Even though the Republicans can make this argument, it is still true that Governor Ehrlich came to Annapolis with a plan to promote these ideals centered around slots.

Why was this the only way for him to proceed? Wasn't there some other way to work with the Democratic legislature?

It was a gamble to force the General Assembly to choose slots over education and other basic societal needs, but the governor took it. And it is still not clear how things will play out.

If Governor Ehrlich wanted to push for slots, then he should have found a way to solve the budget crisis without slots - consistent with Republican Party values - even as he reserved the right to keep fighting for slots next year. Major pieces of legislation in Washington and in our state capitals often must be fought over for years.

Like President Bush, Mr. Ehrlich created a showdown when he could have bargained for more time. Thus the main problem with Governor Ehrlich's first Assembly session is that he made our state politics revolve around this issue.

It is debatable whether we should have slots.

Even if slots were to bring millions of dollars to Maryland and thousands of jobs, they would not inspire people or make people proud.

A governor has to do more than manage our money and protect us. He also has to make us believe in ourselves and promote sound values of citizenship and community. Forcing the Democratic legislature to pass such a controversial initiative to resolve the budget crisis, even to solve a problem Mr. Ehrlich did not create, is not a good way to achieve these ends.

And making everything in Annapolis revolve around this forced choice cast a pall over the entire session.

David M. Anderson teaches political ethics at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. He lives in Potomac.

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