Maryland Notebook

Maryland Notebook

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 2, 2009

Most Annapolis insiders know Vinnie DeMarco as an indefatigable advocate for universal health care, beloved by progressive Democrats and dismissed by conservatives. As executive director of the nonprofit Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, he's a familiar face to reporters: a friendly nudge, always looking for publicity for his causes.

Now comes a book by Michael Pertschuk, a consumer advocate and a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, that immortalizes DeMarco and his story as a template for successful grass-roots organizing.

"The DeMarco Factor: Transforming Public Will Into Political Power," scheduled to be published in the spring by Vanderbilt University Press, chronicles DeMarco's successful campaigns against the National Rifle Association, the tobacco lobby, Wal-Mart and the health-care industry.

Pertschuk explains how DeMarco, a former leader of the Maryland Young Democrats, has, since the 1980s, organized broad coalitions of health policy advocates, unions, churches and faith communities and even some business interests to help defeat the state's gun and tobacco lobbies with tougher gun control laws and higher cigarette taxes. In 2007, he worked with General Assembly leaders on a major expansion of Medicaid in Maryland.

The timing was good: House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) made the legislation his priority and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) was eager to sign it. Enrollment in the state-federal medical insurance program for the poor has exceeded predictions.

DeMarco said the book will be fun reading for Maryland political junkies, with its lawmakers, governors, reporters, industry players, advocates and policy wonks.

Miller vs. Miller On Maryland Gas Tax

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) has long said that Maryland will probably need to raise its gas tax in the next legislative term if the state is to have any hope of meeting its transportation priorities. But as election year approaches, he's getting push-back from Republicans, with the loudest criticism coming from his likely GOP opponent next year.

On Tuesday, Miller told business leaders in Frederick that if Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is reelected, raising the tax will be a big order of business in the first year of the new term. He acknowledged that it would be a politically unpopular vote for the General Assembly. Miller said federal stimulus money can't come close to covering the state's road and transit needs.

Maryland's gas tax has stayed at 23.5 cents a gallon since 1992.

"We're paving I-270 with stimulus money," Miller told the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, according to an account in the Frederick News Post. "All we're doing is repaving. All we're doing is maintenance."

Republican Ron Miller, a conservative blogger who has said he plans to file papers to run for Miller's Southern Maryland Senate seat in the 2010 election, didn't miss a beat.

"The fact he's continuing to push for it as an election year approaches, and the word 'tax' is an expletive, given the double whammy Marylanders are getting from the federal government and the one-party monopoly in Annapolis, shows he's got a lot of chutzpah," Ron Miller wrote on Red County, a conservative blog.

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