If having raised more than $900,000 in campaign contributions this year wasn't indicator enough of Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's intentions, check the World Wide Web. The address www.townsendforgovernor.com is taken, registered to Friends of KKT in Annapolis.

Townsend is considered the leader among Democrats expected to seek the gubernatorial nomination in 2002.

But cyber-business speculators continue to play the Maryland political field. Both www.ruppersberger2002.com and www.duncan2002.com have been snapped up by a speculator. The campaigns of Baltimore County Executive C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger (D) and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) would have to buy the rights if they decided to run and wanted to use those Web addresses.

The World Wide Web address www.ehrlich2002.com is taken, too, which means Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is weighing a run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, would have to buy the rights if he wanted to make use of that address for a campaign.

Beretta Gives Duncan $250

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has raised almost a half-million dollars for a possible run for governor in 2002 from a variety of sources--developers, unions, lobbyists and deep-pocket Democratic politicians past and present.

He also collected $250 from Beretta U.S.A, the Maryland-based gun company. The contribution precedes a General Assembly session in which legislators will decide whether "smart guns"--those that fire only in the owner's grip--should be the only ones sold in Maryland.

Maryland law hamstrings counties from regulating firearm sales, but Duncan has pushed gun control when possible. He successfully pushed legislation requiring that guns sold in Montgomery come with trigger locks.

So why is Duncan taking Beretta money? It's not enough to buy an ad or send out a mailer. And it leaves him open to complaints by gun-control advocates that he accepted money from the gun lobby.

Duncan said he accepted the money because Beretta is a Maryland company and it supplies the county police force with its firearms. He also accepted money from the company during the last campaign cycle.

"I've pushed for responsible gun ownership for a long time, and I will continue to," Duncan said. "They know my position on this issue."

Switched to Appropriations

With the General Assembly session just six weeks off, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) has announced some new committee assignments, and Del. Leon G. Billings (D-Montgomery) is ticked.

Taylor has moved Billings from the Environmental Matters Committee to Appropriations, and Billings, a longtime critic of Taylor, is calling it a "political mugging." In a statement, Billings said he didn't ask for and wasn't consulted on the reassignment, which he said was retaliation for his opposition to the speaker's views on abortion, electric utility deregulation and environmental issues.

Billings also complained that his District 18 colleague, House Majority Leader John A. Hurson, likely was an "active participant" in his reassignment.

Taylor could not be reached in time for this report, but Hurson said he had nothing to do with Billings's reassignment. Hurson himself has been reassigned from Ways and Means to Environmental Matters.

As for Billings's move, Hurson said: "I think Appropriations is a fine assignment. There are a lot of people from Montgomery County who would want that."

Not the Potter You Remember

The lobbying has already begun, months before the start of the next budget season, for lower taxes in Montgomery County. And it is coming from a most unusual source: former county executive Neal Potter, the embodiment of Montgomery's unreconstructed left wing.

In the November issue of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League newsletter, Potter advocates a further reduction of the county income tax rate from 2.9 percent to 2.8 percent.

He also advocates paying down debt at a time when Montgomery officials are again projecting a surplus of more than $90 million, thanks almost entirely to soaring income tax revenue.

"There may be higher priorities than a tax cut, but right now it seems feasible," Potter said. "On the other hand, the demands for more spending on transportation, education and for debt reduction have a pretty high priority. I personally am most interested in debt reduction."

That last part sounds more like the good-government guru that Potter became during his years as county executive and as a member of the County Council. Potter himself never got a chance to cut income taxes and in fact was forced to raise them 20 percent during a term as county executive that spanned the recession earlier this decade.

Montgomery officials now are paring back those tax increases--they passed a modest reduction for this fiscal year--and Potter thinks it's a good idea to keep moving in that direction as long as the gaudy surplus persists.

Yet Potter also believes that, although income taxes should be reduced, the county and state should consider increasing taxes on builders and motorists to pay for transportation improvements--through a gas tax and, perhaps, a development impact fee of the sort the council just rejected.

Democrats dominate elective offices in Montgomery. Potter is the godfather of one wing of the county Democratic Party, marked by a devotion to process and respect for the county's legion of civic groups. Former county executive Sidney Kramer, whom Potter defeated in the 1990 Democratic primary, is generally viewed as the leader of the more conservative, business-oriented wing of the party. The current county executive, Douglas M. Duncan, hails from the Kramer wing.

So it raised some eyebrows when Potter joined the Montgomery County Taxpayers League as a director last spring. The group traditionally has been a shrill one-note lobby for lower taxes and little else. But it has changed in recent months under the leadership of Cleonice Tavani, who has made it more of a fiscal policy think tank.