Franchot woos his party's core vote

He supports new Wal-Mart bill, health spending


Del. Peter Franchot will make a run at core Democratic voters in his race for comptroller with a call for increased state spending on women's reproductive health and a challenge to his opponents to support a renewed effort to force Wal-Mart to improve health care benefits for its workers.

The Montgomery County lawmaker, taking an expansive view of the comptroller's responsibilities, is scheduled to hold a news conference in Baltimore today to focus on the two issues.

Franchot and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens are challenging incumbent Comptroller William Donald Schaefer in what is shaping up as a highly competitive three-way Democratic primary Sept. 12. A poll for The Sun last month showed Schaefer garnering about a third of the vote - with a third of the Democratic electorate up for grabs.

Franchot, who has won numerous endorsements from Democratic activist groups, will announce proposals today designed to appeal to women voters, health advocates and labor. He said he will challenge Schaefer and Owens to support an effort to craft a new bill to force Wal-Mart to improve health benefits for its workers. The General Assembly adopted legislation last year and then overrode Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto - only to see the law struck down last month by a federal court.

Franchot vowed to support a new effort by Democratic lawmakers to pass a bill that the courts would uphold.

The veteran delegate said he also wants to work with the next governor to add about $20 million annually to the state budget for women's reproductive health care - including breast and cervical cancer screening programs. He said state spending on such programs have hovered around $15 million for several years.

Franchot said he will use the occasion to trumpet "20 years of strong support of women's right to choose" whether to have an abortion. He said he will release a letter from 80 to 100 prominent women Democrats - including elected officials and community leaders - endorsing his candidacy.

Owens said yesterday that she supports reproductive health care but has no idea what role the comptroller would play in dealing with the issue. "I think we need the governor and legislature to set the policy on this, and Mr. Franchot's clearly running for the wrong job," she said.

She declined to address the Wal-Mart bill but said she strongly supports expanded health care insurance for all people."

Laslo Boyd, a spokesman for Schaefer, said he would have no comment on a news conference that hadn't taken place yet.

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