Invitation to a protest

The Political Game

Demonstration: A state senator does not attend a Planned Parenthood open house, but his wife does.

May 04, 2004|By David Nitkin and Michael Dresser | David Nitkin and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

CELEBRATING the opening of a new facility in Baltimore last week, Planned Parenthood of Maryland sent open-house invitations to state lawmakers. In accordance with ethics regulations, all 188 received them.

A few chose to attend.

The wife of one stood outside and waved a placard.

Sylvia "Cookie" Harris, wife of state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican and the Senate minority whip, played a prominent role in a protest outside the new Planned Parenthood offices on Howard Street on Sunday afternoon.

The organization's board chairman, Daniel Clements, a Baltimore attorney, said he grew curious when he saw a white van with a state Senate license plate park outside the Planned Parenthood offices as the open house was getting under way.

He approached a woman he did not recognize taking signs out of the van that featured images of aborted fetuses, and who appeared to be organizing the demonstration.

"They had these oversized 3- and 4-foot photos," Clements said. "They came out of her truck, and went back into her truck."

The woman identified herself as Cookie Harris.

Senator Harris' staunch anti-abortion views are well-known in Annapolis. Cookie Harris said that she has come to the same position during the past several years, and is an active member of the anti-abortion group Defend Life.

"I was partaking in the protest because I do not believe in what Planned Parenthood does," she said. Abortions are performed at the new clinic four days a week.

Clements said he thinks the senator gave his wife the invitation to the open house, alerting her and her allies to the celebration. Protesters "engaged in face-to-face confrontations with the visitors to Planned Parenthood and at times attempted to block the entrance," Clements said.

But Cookie Harris denied that her husband alerted her, and said that a "mole" tipped the protesters off.

"My husband didn't know he was invited, because he has instructed his secretary to throw out those invitations," she said.

Miller and Busch discuss differences over dinner

A private dinner meeting between two of the state's most powerful politicians last night produced no breakthroughs on slots, taxes or the budget.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller invited House Speaker Michael E. Busch to share steaks at Lewnes' Steakhouse in Annapolis. Miller picked up the tab.

Slots came up briefly, but "not in any detail," Busch said, and the prospect of a fall referendum on gambling was not broached. Busch is one of the state's leading slots opponents, and Miller supports expanded gambling, which failed for the second straight year during the recent Assembly session.

"It wasn't about slots. It wasn't about taxes," Busch said. "It was about how we can better communicate and bring the two houses together."

The speaker said Miller also wanted to talk about how to protect moderate Democrats who have been alienated by Busch's calls for higher taxes.

Seeking middle ground in slots vs. taxes debate

Del. Norman H. Conway, the low-key chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has delivered an uncharacteristically blunt warning to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that slot machines alone would not generate enough revenue to avoid "drastic cuts" in state services.

In a letter late last month, Conway told Ehrlich that Maryland's elected officials have failed to arrive at a "comprehensive solution" to the state's projected budget shortfalls.

"I appeal to you to move beyond a campaign platform which might be summarized as `slots, not taxes," Conway wrote. "This approach might have been viable at its inception three years ago, but now any revenue generated by legalizing slot machines will be insufficient to resolve the state's continuing fiscal problems."

The Salisbury Democrat urged the governor to begin "frank and open discussions" with legislative leaders, adding that increases in the sales and income taxes - as the state's largest revenue sources - must be considered. He said that while he is not a supporter of slots, he recognizes growing support for expanded gambling as a revenue source.

Conway's message to Ehrlich echoes comments made by Busch for months. What is unusual is that they were independently offered by one of the General Assembly's more conservative Democrats, who hails from a district that Republicans have been looking at hungrily.

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