Positive talk not likely to end discord

The Political Game

Annapolis: A nagging reality about legislative sessions threatens to disrupt an agreement in the works between Democrats and Republicans.

October 19, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

LAST WEEK, the most powerful politicians in Annapolis - a Republican and two Democrats - announced progress on a major policy question.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch emerged from the governor's mansion to report movement on solving medical malpractice insurance problems.

The governor was willing to discuss a temporary taxpayer-financed fund to help pay doctors' insurance premiums. Miller, an attorney, was willing to discuss other components of tort reform. The legislature might meet late next month, the three men said, to adopt a legislative fix.

Have the state's leaders finally figured out how to bridge partisan divides? Don't get too optimistic.

Lost in the discussion of a special legislative session is a nagging reality that threatens to disrupt the healing process between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Here's the problem: By law, the first order of business the General Assembly must take up when it reconvenes - whether in a special session or regular session in January - is veto overrides.

Since Ehrlich issued his most recent round of vetoes in May, lawmakers and advocates have been gearing up for overrides that are sure to infuriate Ehrlich - even if they are discussed, much less passed. The rejected bills most likely to come up for an override vote would:

Establish a $10.50-per-hour "living wage" requirement for workers hired by private contractors doing business with the state (Senate Bill 621). Ehrlich said such a law would drive out businesses, but the liberal advocacy group Progressive Maryland says a majority of Marylanders agree with the principle. "I think the votes will be there. The public wants this bill by a 3-1 margin," said Tom Hucker, head of Progressive Maryland.

Create a Medicaid-funded "community choice program" for long-term senior citizen care (SB 819). The governor has called the plan unwieldy and expensive, but Sen. Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County has made the legislation a priority and is vowing to push for a veto override.

Guarantee a funding source for the state university system by raising corporate taxes 10 percent for five years (House Bill 1188). The governor said the bill creates an unfunded mandate because spending requirements would remain in place even after the tax increase expires. But Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat, told a gathering of progressive Democrats recently that he believes the measure is ripe for an override.

When there was talk last month of a special session to take up slot machine gambling, Ehrlich wanted the Assembly to agree to put the vetoes aside and focus on just one issue. No way, legislative leaders said. A history of legal interpretations holds that if the Assembly doesn't tackle veto overrides immediately, they lose their chance.

So even as Ehrlich and the Assembly's presiding officers work off the same page for a medical malpractice fix, the chances of long-term harmony are bleak. Many other issues are lurking to divide them.

Magazine singles out two who work in politics

The world of government and politics is not where most people look for life mates. Even first lady Kendel Ehrlich likes to tell how she was smitten with everything about her future husband when she first met him, except for his profession. He was a state delegate at the time.

So that makes it all the more surprising that the "Hot Singles" December issue of Baltimore magazine that will hit newsstands next month will feature not one, but two representatives of the political class.

Ehrlich press secretary Shareese N. DeLeaver and Baltimore County Del. Jon Cardin, a Democrat, both made the cut to be included among 50 "hottest" singles in the Baltimore region.

Cardin, 34, was nominated by one of last year's hotties, friend Marni Goldman. "I don't know if this is going to help or hurt my political career," he said. "My mom said that as of next year, I better not be named as a top single anymore."

DeLeaver, 29, was encouraged by co-workers to submit her photograph. "My whole life is within a mile radius of the State House," DeLeaver said. "It would be nice to meet someone outside of politics."

Finalists were selected from a field of 250, said Max Weiss, a senior editor with the magazine. "We are looking to dispel that myth out there that Baltimore is not an attractive city."

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