Critics of government lining up to bash MVA

The Political Game

Notoriety: In the debate over state-owned slots dens, the agency has been singled out as a symbol of bureaucracy.

February 10, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Some people think government can't do anything right.

While House Speaker Michael E. Busch continues to promote the idea of the Maryland Stadium Authority building slots emporiums along highways with most of the proceeds going to the state, some critics scoff at the idea.

Why should Maryland get in the slots business, they ask, when the state can't figure out how to get rid of lines at the motor vehicles office?

That argument was first heard last summer from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a slots supporter who is a backer of Ehrlich's bill to place the machines at racetracks.

But using the Motor Vehicle Administration as a whipping boy has bipartisan appeal. Republicans have picked up on the argument, too.

"I need no further evidence than to go to the MVA," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority whip, during a recent radio interview in which he addressed public ownership.

So how does the MVA feel about being held up as an example of government ineptitude?

"Yes, we get a bad reputation, but we provide a necessary service for the community," said Buel C. Young, spokesman for the agency.

Young said the criticism is unfounded. "We at the MVA continue to serve a growing and diverse population. Given that we have been under a budget crisis for a period of time, we're doing this with less staffing. We are implementing new ways of servicing our customers through self-serve kiosks," and online services, he said.

Busch says the critics get it wrong. Under his slots idea, the state would build the facilities but contract out their operations to a private company.

If that works, maybe Maryland should look at letting Harrah's issue driver's licenses.

Husband-wife teams prevalent in Md. politics

The state Department of Housing and Community Development has a new lobbyist, Jennifer Franks, the wife of Department of Natural Resources Secretary Ronald C. Franks.

Jennifer Franks moved into her new position last week, replacing George Cormeny, although the department Web site did not reflect the change yesterday. She is a longtime state employee who left state service in 2002 to work for the Ehrlich campaign, then rejoined the Republican administration last month. She earns $81,890, state records show.

The Franks are among the ranks of several husband-wife teams who have prominent positions in the Ehrlich administration or in politics.

There's Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer and his wife, Sandra, a special assistant in the state agriculture department. Secretary of State R. Karl Aumann's wife, Susan, is a delegate from Baltimore County. Martin G. Madden, chairman of the Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays, is married to Julie Madden, director of arts outreach in the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

Deputy Secretary of State Mary Kane is married to state GOP Chairman John M. Kane. Trent Kittleman, the wife of Republican Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, has a high-ranking transportation job, and homeland security chief Dennis Schrader is the husband of Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader.

Jennifer Franks, a law school graduate, said her position is well-earned after years of government service, including time in the office of Senator Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

"It's not like I'm here because of him," she said of her husband, a former Republican delegate. "Maybe he got there because of me."

In change of heart, Busch to co-sponsor Ehrlich bills

Busch has softened the symbolism he used a year ago to thumb his nose at the Ehrlich administration.

Last year, Busch bucked decades of tradition by refusing to sponsor Ehrlich's legislation, which included a slots-at-racetracks bill.

Out of courtesy, administration bills had historically been introduced by the president of the Senate and the House speaker. But with a Republican governor in the State House for the first time in more than three decades, Busch, a Democrat, broke with the past.

All of Ehrlich's bills last year were sponsored by the House minority leader, a snub of little substance but one that sent ripples through Annapolis.

This year, Busch is taking a different tack.

He has agreed to have his name listed as a co-sponsor on Ehrlich's legislative package, and Ehrlich's bills are now jointly introduced by the House speaker and the minority leader. That includes HB 293, Ehrlich's revised slots plan.

"I'm reaching out to the other side of the aisle," Busch said when asked about the change.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said, "In the spirit of conciliation, we welcome the speaker's change of heart with open arms," she said.

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