House GOP seeks vote on slots legislation

Republicans reject call by Busch for referendum

August 18, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Republicans in the House of Delegates lashed out at Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch yesterday, calling him an obstructionist with questionable motives and asking for an immediate vote on slot-machine legislation.

"The speaker has not been able to find a workable solution. We believe that is indicative of a failure of leadership in the House," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority whip from Southern Maryland.

O'Donnell said House Republicans supported Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s call this week for an immediate special session of the General Assembly for a vote on a slots bill. Busch was more interested in thwarting a legislative victory by a Republican governor, he said, than in trying to resolve an issue that has consumed the capital for two years.

"How do you negotiate with a guy who in the end result says he is going to vote against the final product anyway?" O'Donnell said.

Busch responded that Ehrlich and Republicans must answer why they are refusing to allow Marylanders to vote on a gambling amendment to the constitution. The speaker reiterated that he was willing to negotiate any portion of his plan, except for a public vote.

"I don't think we've failed on our leadership," Busch said. "We put a very viable proposal in front of the governor. People who would stand in the way of voters having the right to have a say on this in November can only be categorized as truly obstructionist."

The charges from O'Donnell and others in the minority caucus came a day after Ehrlich rejected Busch's call for a November referendum on a constitutional amendment to authorize state-owned slot machine parlors in Timonium, Frederick, Laurel, Flintstone, Aberdeen and the Eastern Shore.

The governor prefers locations mainly at racetracks that would be built and owned by track operators, and says he opposes a referendum.

The GOP attack and Busch's prompt response illustrate how competing sides are looking to blame the other and avoid public outrage for the Assembly's continued inability to pass a slots plan despite the governor's support and growing competition from other states.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, the deputy minority leader from Washington County, said the Busch slots proposal was designed to fail at the ballot box. When voters learned of provisions such as state control of charity gambling that is now regulated by counties, they would disapprove, he said.

"The poison pills that are in there would be revealed by the public, by the media," he said.

Busch accused House Republicans - who hold 43 of 141 seats in the chamber - of changing their position on gambling because of Ehrlich's support. Nine years ago, he said, O'Donnell participated in a caucus news conference where he criticized gambling and predicted that someone would go to jail if the state passed a bill.

"Even in the Glendening era, I was against slots," Busch said. "I didn't change underwear just because the governor changed."

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