Amid slots debate, a local discourtesy

The Political Game

Bill: A measure from the Prince George's delegation meets uncharacteristic opposition in Annapolis.

March 29, 2005|By David Nitkin and Ivan Penn | David Nitkin and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

IN THE Maryland General Assembly, the concept of local courtesy - deferring to lawmakers from one county when an issue affects that area alone - is one of the most respected doctrines. Gambling and slot machines are among the most divisive issues.

Mix the two, and the combination becomes unpredictable and combustible.

Earlier this session, Prince George's County delegates voted for a bill to let volunteer fire stations and other charitable groups conduct casino nights as fund-raising events, with card games, roulette and - if the groups so desired - slot machines.

Casino nights had not been allowed in the county since 1997, according to legislative analysts. The Prince George's County Council could collect 20 percent of the proceeds as a tax under the bill, if the money were to go for public education.

As a local bill, the measure should have had an easy time clearing the House. Bills that affect just one county are debated and voted on by only the lawmakers from that county, meeting as a local delegation with formal decision-making authority. If the county delegation approves, the legislation moves to the full chamber, where because of the concept local courtesy passage usually is assured.

But the courtesy was tossed aside Saturday. Republicans in the House didn't like the sound of the bill, and had questions. Weren't Prince George's lawmakers, Democrats all, among the main impediments to the governor's slots plans, they wondered? Doesn't gambling-for-education sound a lot like the governor's slots bill?

"This is gambling for education," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority whip. "I believe we should do it across the state. This is a patchwork approach."

When the roll call was taken, the bill failed. The vote was 69 for and 39 against, two votes short of the constitutional majority of 71 required for passage. Because of the Easter weekend, several lawmakers in the 141-member House were not present.

So the Prince George's delegation needed to go to extraordinary means to save the bill. They made a motion for reconsideration, a procedural move that allows the bill to be reconsidered. But they asked that the motion be voted on when more lawmakers were present.

After more debate yesterday, the Prince George's casino night bill passed by an 86-39 vote.

Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard, the Democrat who heads the county delegation, said the GOP criticism was unfounded. "They scrutinize Prince George's very carefully, but most of the time they don't have their facts accurate," she said.

Politics superstore opens in Annapolis

Several longtime Maryland politicos have combined resources to form what could be one of the state's most formidable political consulting firms.

Take political scientist Herb Smith of McDaniel College, consultant Arthur W. Murphy, researcher Don Herche and former Del. Don Lamb-Minor and you have the Democracy Group, an Annapolis-based organization formed a month ago.

Once mostly independent operators, they now have created one-stop shopping for candidates.

"It represents a major change for all of us," Murphy said. "We've worked together before, and we decided to pool our efforts because our client bases are very large. We can be more efficient and actually cheaper."

Their aim is to provide professional campaign services that include theme and general strategy development; public opinion polling; campaign communications; fund-raising planning; candidate coaching; opposition research; voter targeting; voter persuasion through direct mail, radio, television, newspapers and the Internet; get-out-the-vote operations; and referendums and other ballot questions.

"We see ourselves really taking an integrated approach to campaigns," said Lamb-Minor.

Creation of such an organization comes a year and a half before the 2006 gubernatorial election, which is expected to be a high-profile contest featuring Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democrats Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

The state also has an open seat for U.S. Senate because of the impending retirement of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Steele `seriously' ponders Senate run; he's not alone

It appears that Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and the Republican National Committee are giving more "serious" thought to a U.S. Senate run by the lieutenant governor.

In an interview last week, Steele told reporters that the Bush administration has been on the phone with him about running for Senate, but that he has not made a definitive decision.

"I've talked to senior administration officials - a whole lot of people, everybody and their cousin," Steele said. "I'm seriously at the point where I am beginning to entertain this in a serious way."

On the other side of the aisle, other candidates also are taking the race seriously.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat representing the 8th District, has tapped Mike Morrill to join his exploratory team examining a Senate run.

Morrill most recently managed Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's re-election campaign, and also worked on Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's unsuccessful race for governor. He also was a communications director for former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

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