Ehrlich gives the seasonal hoopla a pass

The Political Game

Basketball: The sports-loving governor decides not to repeat his `March Madness' parties of last year, preferring to get down to business -- for the most part.

April 06, 2004|By David Nitkin and Howard Libit | David Nitkin and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

UNLIKE A year ago, the governor's mansion is no longer the site of NCAA basketball Final Four parties, according to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Last spring, Ehrlich -- a huge sports fan who played football and baseball at the Gilman School, was a Princeton gridiron standout and never saw a golf course that didn't make his heart race -- made a point of inviting a few lawmakers to Government House to share in March Madness.

Some lawmakers expressed surprise at the time that Ehrlich passed up on the opportunity to lobby them on his bills, instead focusing on the games.

But Ehrlich, a former member of the House of Delegates, said last week that he's not in the mood for socializing. Not only is there a new baby in the mansion, but the governor said he doesn't feel like acting chummy with his old legislative pals.

"Last year, it was `Bobby is coming back,'" Ehrlich said last week. "This year, it's `Cut the crap, we need to get stuff done.'"

Still, the governor took some time Sunday to visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards for Opening Day. He even slipped into the team's radio broadcast booth, and was asked to do a little play-by-play during the second inning.

Put on the spot by announcers Fred Manfra and Joe Angel, Ehrlich made team announcers sound stellar by comparison. The governor's excuse for his halting performance: He didn't have his glasses on.

Election financing bill becomes a laughing matter

The effort to create a system of public financing for Maryland elections is being subjected to a few twists and turns at the hands of a House committee.

What was originally a bill to create a comprehensive statewide system has now been amended by the House Ways and Means election law subcommittee for just one Montgomery County district. That district happens to be the home of the delegate who is lead sponsor of the legislation: Democratic Del. John Adams Hurson, chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

"This would be a pilot study for District 18," Del. Obie Patterson, chairman of the subcommittee, told the full committee yesterday morning.

Patterson, a Democrat, was then unable to contain his giggles amid laughter from many of the other delegates, and he turned over the rest of the explanation of the subcommittee's amendments to a staff member.

Based on a two-year study, the bill originally sought to allow candidates for the state Senate or House of Delegates to qualify for public financing if they raised donations from at least 282 people in their district of at least $5 each. House candidates could then receive up to $80,000 in state funds, and Senate candidates could qualify for up to $100,000.

Supporters argue that such a system would help candidates avoid having to seek large amounts from wealthy contributors -- creating the perception that candidates are beholden to those who donate to them.

The original plan could have cost up to $27 million per four-year election cycle, and the bill proposed paying for it through a voluntary income-tax check-off and surcharges on driver's license renewals for drivers with at least six points on their records.

In addition to limiting the bill just to Hurson's district, Patterson's subcommittee stripped out the funding mechanisms and would instead tap into an existing $3 million statewide campaign financing fund.

Even that funding mechanism prompted committee concerns yesterday.

"I am concerned with taking the $3 million designated for the state and giving it to the one district in the pilot," said Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard, a Prince George's County Democrat.

"Can we study this issue over the summer?" asked Del. Clarence Davis, a Baltimore Democrat.

"This is the result of a task force that spent two years studying it," replied Del. Sheila E. Hixson, the committee's chairwoman and a Montgomery Democrat.

"Can they meet another year?" asked Davis, prompting another round of laughter.

Delegates then agreed to ask for an opinion from the Attorney General's Office on whether doing public financing for just one district would create constitutional equal-protection concerns for the rest of the state.

Hurson said he had no objection to creating a pilot study just for his district. He said he checked with the two other delegates and senator from his district, and they supported it, too.

"The committee asked me, and I said, `Why not? Let's try it out,'" Hurson said. "There's a lot of support for this in our district."

But amid their laughter, delegates left little doubt the bill would not be leaving their committee, at least this year.

GOP seeks out voters fit to switch

The state Republican Party wasted no time in trying to capitalize on the damage it believes was done when House Democrats approved a revenue package last month that would increase taxes by a net $670 million a year, despite a veto threat from the governor.

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