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Physicians Have Appointment With State Legislators

By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 22, 2004; Page SM04

If all goes according to plan for the state's doctors lobby, Maryland legislators will experience "rolling thunder" upon their return to Annapolis in January.

The Maryland State Medical Society, commonly known as MedChi, is gearing for a major lobbying campaign to persuade the General Assembly to address the escalating costs of medical malpractice insurance. A recent letter to members from society President Mark S. Seigel, an obstetrician-gynecologist, outlined some of the planned tactics.

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Among them: "Prepare for 'rolling thunder' of daily busloads of physicians to Annapolis during session."

Seigel said a rally that drew 3,000 doctors during the past legislative session was "terrific." But, he wrote in the letter, "a more sustained presence of physicians in the capital, day after day, would be more effective. So instead of 50 buses all at once, our goal will be to turn out two busloads of doctors each day, four days a week, for the first eight weeks of session, so that elected officials never miss a day of hearing an earful from doctors."

The strategy also involves money -- and some not-so-subtle pressure applied on wavering legislators by MedChi members. Seigel's letter included a contribution form for a political action committee known as the Physicians for Medical Liability Reform PAC. The PAC, he said, "intends to target uncooperative elected officials with a clear message: Support us or face the consequences of an all-out campaign to unseat you. This message must be backed by the credible means with which to defeat incumbent officials."

Also on the schedule, according to the letter: "town hall meetings" starting in September that will be held in "key districts of representatives and senators who opposed our reforms."

"This is a fight for medicine's future in Maryland," Seigel concluded, "and MedChi is in it for the long haul."

Regardless of the Past

As negotiations over slot machine gambling sputtered in recent weeks, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and his aides were highly critical of House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) for seeking a statewide vote on the issue.

In Maryland, the only way to put the issue before voters would be in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment. Ehrlich aides argued that the Constitution, the state's guiding document, shouldn't be amended so casually.

Well, this week Busch presented reporters with 23 instances since 1987 in which the General Assembly has initiated such amendments, including 10 for which Ehrlich voted in the early 1990s as a member of the House of Delegates.

The issues included proposed changes in judicial proceedings, such as the size of juries in civil cases and making an exception to a state prohibition against holding more than one office at a time.

"Regardless of past practices, the Constitution should not be manipulated for political gain or to allow (or prohibit) things like gaming," Ehrlich said in a letter to Busch.

Stirring Up the Party

Maryland Del. Peter Franchot has taken the lead in an effort to organize a Democratic Party summit in October, aimed at persuading party loyalists to coalesce around presidential candidate John F. Kerry.

Franchot (D-Montgomery) has established a Web site, www.energizethebase.com, to promote the Oct. 2 event, which will be held in Columbia and will include speeches from both of the party's likely gubernatorial contenders, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. It will be headlined by U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.).

In a flier Franchot has been distributing, the event is billed as one devoted as much to state politics as to the big national race. The pitch to progressive Democrats is to "Defeat George Bush" and "Get ready to defeat Bob Ehrlich."

Still, some Democrats had to wonder last week whether Franchot is more a divider than a uniter. The invitation to the summit came a week after he penned a guest column in the Gazette accusing state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) of abandoning "the progressive values of his party in his obsessive pursuit of slots."

Franchot responded to reports in The Post that Miller had thrown his arm around Ehrlich at a recent horse industry function in Upper Marlboro and said that the Democrats will be blamed for a budget crisis because the party failed to help Ehrlich pass slots.

"It is increasingly clear that when Senate President Miller discusses the state of the Maryland Democratic Party these days, his opinions are those of an outsider," Franchot wrote.

Miller has dismissed the column as "not worth his time" to discuss.

Asked whether the party's powerful Senate president would be welcome at the unity summit, Franchot said he would encourage it.

"If he wants to come, he's welcome," Franchot said. "Anyone will feel comfortable at this conference."


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