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Time to Tally the '05 Session's Winners and Losers

By Matthew Mosk and John Wagner
Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page C04

Lawmakers tell us there's nothing unusual about emerging from the annual legislative session in Annapolis with a brutal hangover, regardless of how they spent the hours after the midnight adjournment.

No doubt, every session has its winners and losers, and in the cold light of day, it's once again time to look back at the past 90 days to gauge, in as scientific a manner as possible, who they were.

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos's family bought Rosecroft and found out that the clout of the Angelos name didn't sway the slots debate. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

_____Slot Machines_____
WEEK IN REVIEW (The Washington Post, Apr 17, 2005)
Ehrlich Spreads Blame Over Slots (The Washington Post, Apr 12, 2005)
Ehrlich Counts on Unorthodox Appeals to Clinch His Agenda (The Washington Post, Apr 11, 2005)
Md. Slots Push Comes Down to The Wire (The Washington Post, Apr 9, 2005)
More on Slot Machines

The winners include:

• House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who outmaneuvered the governor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to stop slots for the third year in a row. Pro- and anti-gambling types couldn't help but marvel at Busch's ability to solve a vexing riddle: how to keep slots out of Maryland but not appear to be an obstructionist.

The answer: Draft a bill that can pass the House, and leave it to the governor and the Senate to decide if they can stomach the result. They couldn't. And by session's end, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) was pointing blame at Miller (D-Calvert) for not accepting the House bill.

Busch also helped ensure that lawmakers would devote $250 million to school construction needs, making the governor's initial pledge of $157 million look puny.

• Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery), who stood between two powerful forces to broker a compromise on a bill to tackle the problem of witness intimidation, which has gotten so bad in Baltimore that prosecutors have started to jail key witnesses to ensure that they reach the stand. Ehrlich and House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) spent weeks in a standoff over the bill before Simmons intervened.

Simmons also mesmerized his fellow delegates with impassioned oratory on the House floor, including a speech advocating a ban on political contributions from gambling interests. The floor vote on the amendment didn't go his way, but many believe his words swayed enough souls to make it the narrowest defeat of the session (a tie vote at 66).

• Public interest lobbyist Vincent DeMarco, who has discovered the secret formula for getting tough bills through the legislature without any powerful backers. In past years, DeMarco muscled through a controversial trigger-lock bill and a tobacco tax. This year, the rumpled lobbyist stuck it to Wal-Mart with a bill that would essentially force the retailer to increase health coverage for its workers. Ehrlich has pledged a veto, but with DeMarco involved, who would discount a possible override?

Linda H. Lamone, the elections administrator who might now have the safest job in Maryland, thanks to a new law that makes it far more difficult to remove her. Under the Democrats' plan, Republicans argued, she could stay employed even if she goes to jail.

Maryland's gay men and lesbians, who must have thought that big legislative wins would be only memories with Parris N. Glendening (D) out of office. To the contrary, they had their best year ever. Lawmakers granted medical decision-making rights to same-sex couples. They gave same-sex couples a real estate transfer tax exemption that was once enjoyed only by spouses and relatives. And they passed legislation that had failed repeatedly under Glendening, adding gays and transgender people to those protected by hate crime laws.

Of course, this session had its share of losers. They included:

Ehrlich, who may have engaged in his own brand of social promotion when, after the session ended, he announced he should receive a B. Unless B stands for Bust, we don't think so. Ehrlich's session started with the collapse of his medical malpractice special session. Then came revelations that his longtime aide, Joseph Steffen, was up to his same old dirty tricks. Word then leaked that he had an ice dancer doing legislative duty at the Port of Baltimore. Lawmakers jammed through a constitutional amendment that will remind 2006 voters of his ugly, aborted attempt to sell environmentally sensitive land in St. Mary's County. True, some of his more modest initiatives won legislative approval. But he's now 0-for-3 on slots, and his latest medical malpractice bill died in committee.

• Baseball mogul Peter G. Angelos, whose legendary clout in Annapolis had no visible impact on the slots debate. (To be fair, it was Angelos's family that had purchased Rosecroft Raceway and had a stake in the outcome. Angelos was merely serving as an adviser to his wife and sons.)

Maryland's business community. Ehrlich urged it to be "dangerous" when lobbying in Annapolis, but lawmakers apparently found nothing to fear. In addition to the Wal-Mart bill, Democrats voted to raise the minimum wage over protests from companies that said it would force them to lay off employees. By the session's end, even their friend the governor was trashing them as meek.

Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's), whose session started with bad buzz over tailgate parties for his College Park constituents and only got worse.

The champion of tough drunken driving laws advised his wife not to blow a breathalyzer when she was stopped for attempted driving under the influence -- and then sponsored a bill on the subject that would stiffen penalties for people who refuse to blow. Later, he sent an e-mail to Busch, insinuating that he would trade his vote on controversial Anne Arundel schools legislation, but only if Busch signed on to his "last ditch" solution to slots.

Talk about your 2005 session hangovers!

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