State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, the Eastern Shore Republican who waged an intense behind-the-scenes battle to keep slot machines out of his home county, suddenly relaxed his opposition yesterday.
"I had no time to gauge public opinion on this matter," said Colburn in a statement distributed to the news media. "I learned of the Dorchester proposal on Feb. 25th and the final vote was taken on Feb. 27th. Regrettably, I was not given the time to take this decision to the public due to the quick movement of the bill."
After learning that the county's Chamber of Commerce had voted unanimously to support slots in Dorchester, Colburn decided to hold a community hearing next week.
If he hears enough backing for a slots facility - most likely in the county seat of Cambridge - the senator said he would ask the House of Delegates to put Dorchester back on the list.
The Senate passed Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s gambling legislation Feb. 27, permitting 15,500 slot machines at three racetracks and three nontrack locations.
The House Ways and Means Committee, where Ehrlich's slots proposal was defeated last year, has scheduled the first House hearings on slots legislation for March 23.
Under the Senate plan, the three nontrack slots facilities would be permitted only in Baltimore City and Cecil and Prince George's counties - the result of jockeying for exemptions by various communities and senators.
Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties were pulled from Ehrlich's plan, which initially had called for slots anywhere along Interstate 95. Senate Democrats then proposed putting slots in Worcester County at the Ocean Downs racetrack.
Ocean City leaders, Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus and Ehrlich all balked at the idea, threatening to kill slots proposals altogether if Ocean Downs wasn't removed.
When Ocean Downs was pulled, Dorchester popped into the bill as the alternative for the Eastern Shore. Colburn, who was days from his congressional primary election against Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, had about 24 hours before the Senate's final slots vote to decide whether to exercise "local courtesy" to have Dorchester excluded.
"Up until then, all I had been hearing from people was overwhelmingly against slot machines in Dorchester County," Colburn said. "Then, after the vote, I had a number of people contact me, telling me they are in favor of slot machines in Dorchester."
After next week's hearing - set for Monday at 10:30 a.m. in the county office building - Colburn said he might ask delegates representing the county to seek putting Dorchester back in.
ELECTIONS ADMINISTRATOR: The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee killed a bill this week that would have made it easier for the state Board of Elections to fire the state elections administrator. The bill was sponsored by Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, and was widely viewed as an attempt to oust elections chief Linda H. Lamone. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said he wants to replace Lamone, but state law requires the votes of four of five state board members, who must find that the administrator was incompetent or committed malfeasance.
POLICE CHIEF: The Senate voted 46-0 yesterday to confirm the nomination of Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins as state police superintendent - filling the vacancy left by convicted former Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris. Ehrlich named Hutchins, 58, as acting superintendent after Norris was indicted in December. After Norris pleaded guilty to corruption charges Monday, Ehrlich immediately announced the formal nomination of Hutchins, a former veterans affairs secretary and delegate from Charles County.