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Top Md. Democrats disagree about slots at Washington County dinner

Comptroller's anti-slots speech upsets Senate majority leader

Comptroller's anti-slots speech upsets Senate majority leader

May 16, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Two of Maryland's top Democrats exchanged public pleasantries during Thursday's annual Washington County Democratic Central Committee dinner.

But Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., the Senate president, wasn't pleased when Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot denounced slot machines during his keynote address.

Miller sat expressionless as Franchot called an effort to legalize slot-machine gambling "a race to the bottom" for Maryland.

Franchot predicted the state would start with 15,000 slot machines, as a November constitutional amendment proposes, then expand to 30,000 slots a year later, then "full-blown casinos."

The state might have slots in five locations the first year, as proposed, then expand to 10, then all 24 jurisdictions, the comptroller said.

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At his table in front of Franchot, Miller, one of the state's most outspoken slots advocates, shook his head.

In an interview after the dinner, he called Franchot's stump speech inappropriate considering that Washington County Democrats were honoring Del. John P. Donoghue, who supports Gov. Martin O'Malley's effort to approve slots through a referendum.

"It was certainly disrespectful to even bring it up," Miller said.

The central committee named Donoghue its Democrat of the Year.

In a separate interview, Franchot, an anchor of a statewide movement to defeat the slots proposal, didn't back down.

"I have great respect for Senator Miller, but we disagree on slot machines," Franchot said. "I think it's the wrong direction for the state to go in, and it's wrong to amend the state constitution. It's a tax on working families."

"Unfortunately for him, he's on the wrong side of this slot issue ..." Miller countered, naming several associations and unions that support legalization. "People with an ounce of common sense who understand the budget understand that if we don't get this $600 million in revenue, we're going to have to cut our budget drastically.

"He's off in the hinterlands, so he doesn't have to vote for tax cuts, he doesn't have to vote for tax increases. He can stand and cast aspersions from afar."

Franchot was billed as the keynote speaker for this year's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner at the Four Points Sheraton.

On Thursday afternoon, central committee Chairwoman Patricia Heck notified The Herald-Mail that Miller agreed to attend, too.

During their respective speeches, Miller and Franchot acknowledged each other with kind words, belying sharp, public disputes they've had.

The most recent came during the 2008 legislative session, when Franchot said a credible rumor had Miller threatening to "pistol-whip" his office and make "Draconian" cuts as backlash for his position on slots. Miller called the allegation "outrageous." The cuts didn't happen.

Miller and Franchot seemingly laid down their gloves Thursday as Washington County Democrats honored some of their own and rallied around Jennifer Dougherty in her campaign to unseat eight-term Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett this fall.

Donoghue was praised for fighting to restore funding for the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown and for securing state money for capital projects in his district.

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