Duncan strikes unity theme

The Political Game

Speech: The Montgomery County executive offers a clue on how he might reach out to voters should he seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

October 26, 2004|By Andrew A. Green and David Nitkin | Andrew A. Green and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

BALTIMORE-AREA political players are skeptical that Douglas M. Duncan, the three-term Montgomery County executive and all-but-declared candidate for governor in 2006, can gain much support beyond his Washington suburban base in a statewide race.

How, they wonder, will he persuade people from the rest of Maryland to get past the notion that he comes from a political fantasyland full of wealthy liberals who like to pay taxes?

Heading straight for the anti-tax lion's den at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting in Cambridge last week, Duncan gave a preview of themes he might hit to appeal to a more conservative -- and Baltimore-centric -- audience than he has dealt with for the past decade.

Riffing on former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s "One Maryland" theme, Duncan proclaimed Maryland "too small to have divisions."

"People think of themselves, `I'm from the Baltimore region. I have to compete with the Washington region,'" Duncan told chamber members. "We're one region statewide, centered on the Baltimore-Washington powerhouse."

But he did stake out one clear difference from the chamber (and from the man he would replace, Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.) by opposing slot-machine gambling. Maryland shouldn't worry about gamblers leaving the state to play the slots. It should worry about bio-technology firms packing up for more hospitable states, Duncan said.

"We shouldn't be competing with Delaware and West Virginia," he said. "We should be competing with Virginia and North Carolina and California and Texas."

Human resources chief to step up recruiting

A panel of lawmakers tried last week to deal with the nagging issue of child welfare staffing shortages in the state Department of Human Resources. The legislature had written a provision into this year's budget withholding $1.5 million from the agency if it missed a deadline for full staffing -- which it did.

Human Resources Secretary Christopher J. McCabe was summoned to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee to explain why. His answer -- that the department didn't launch a full-scale recruitment drive until early summer -- didn't sit well.

"I really question how aggressively the department is trying to recruit people," said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat and committee vice-chairman. McCabe countered that he had a "sincere commitment" to meet hiring goals.

A few minutes later, Hogan slipped from the committee room, and returned with some damning evidence.

Hogan said he logged onto the employment Web site monster.com "just for the heck of it" and looked for social work positions in Maryland. "Not a single one was the state of Maryland Department of Human Resources," Hogan said.

McCabe couldn't answer why his department was not taking advantage of the cheap and powerful recruitment tool. "There will be" listings, was all he could muster.

Collective bargaining talks stall before they start

Relations between the Ehrlich administration and employee unions have grown so sour that the two sides can't even agree on when to start talking.

Collective bargaining talks that were supposed to begin last week never occurred, after the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees refused to sign "ground rules" that prohibited them from talking to the news media.

"We have said to them it's not our practice to go to the media. I am suspicious of this whole crowd," said Steven Kreisberg, chief negotiator for AFSCME Council 92, the largest employee union. "For me to essentially agree not to speak publicly for two to six years is not fair."

State personnel chief Andrea Fulton said the union had agreed to a no-talk provision in the past, adding that the union probably wants to talk through the news media to sway public opinion.

"The fact that they don't want to sign [the ground rules] leads you to believe that's exactly what they want to do," Fulton said.

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