Annapolis notes

February 14, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

You have to play to win

ANNAPOLIS - Though his press secretary had said he had no plans to do so, Gov. Robert Ehrlich appeared before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee last week to defend his proposal for legalizing slot-machine gambling.

Pressing his latest argument that legalizing slots will help stabilize Maryland's environment by propping up the state's horse-racing industry - and preventing horse farms from being sold and developed - Ehrlich urged the committee to support the bill.

But he was largely preaching to the choir. The committee approved the bill with amendments on Friday.

The Senate approved a nearly identical slots bill last year, but House Speaker Michael Busch stalled action on the House version until the final hours of the General Assembly session, and it died in the House Ways and Means Committee.

That committee will hear this year's version on Wednesday, however, and speculation is high that the bill may reach the full House. But passage by the House remains a challenge.

A recount was in order

ANNAPOLIS - Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, bristled last week at a suggestion by House Speaker Michael Busch that McKee voted against Gov. Robert Ehrlich's 2004 slots bill in the House Ways and Means Committee.

McKee produced a tally sheet showing that he and another committee member voted for it.

McKee insists he remains a solid supporter of the slots bill, saying constituents have been lobbying him everywhere from church to grocery stores to get slots approved.

Hear no evil, speak no evil

ANNAPOLIS - Though officially the big story from the General Assembly last week was supposed to be slots, the state house was consumed by the developing scandal involving Gov. Robert Ehrlich's aide Joseph Steffen and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, widely predicted to be Ehrlich's Democratic rival for the governor's mansion in 2006.

Ehrlich demanded Steffen's resignation Tuesday after Steffen, who liked to refer to himself as "the Prince of Darkness," confessed to posting lurid allegations about O'Malley's private life on the Internet.

O'Malley has been no stranger to Annapolis since the legislative session began last month and hasn't been hesitant to take shots at Ehrlich on policy issues such as reforms to the state's medical malpractice laws. But after Steffen's ouster, O'Malley appeared before reporters in Baltimore, his anguished wife in hand, insisting on an apology from Ehrlich. Democrats in Annapolis raised suspicions that Steffen had not acted alone in trying to discredit O'Malley, but was part of a conspiracy within the Ehrlich administration.

The question in everybody's mind was what did the governor know, and when did he know it.

The silver lining in all this for O'Malley is that the Steffen scandal, and O'Malley's resulting victim status, deflected attention from comments O'Malley made earlier Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, likening President Bush's cuts in aid to cities to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - comments that drew bipartisan condemnation.

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