One unwritten rule of life in Annapolis is that freshman lawmakers are supposed to be like children: seen, not heard.
So it was considered slightly daring when a pair of newly elected delegates, Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) and Herbert H. McMillan (R-Anne Arundel), held a joint news conference last week to talk about a hot topic -- gambling. Impressively, a half-dozen reporters showed up to scribble down notes.
Simmons and McMillan are co-sponsors of a bill that would limit the expansion of gambling in Maryland, regardless of whether slot machines are legalized this year. If slots are approved, they said, they want to make sure that casinos and riverboats and other forms of vice can't come up for discussion in future years.
The two freshman delegates quickly learned, however, that just because you held a news conference doesn't mean you made news. Their event did merit a mention in the Baltimore Business Journal and the Annapolis Capital, but failed to make the cut in The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and the Associated Press, even though all three outlets were on hand.
The freshmen were overshadowed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who merited plenty of coverage that day because of his failure to hammer out the details of his slots proposal in time for legislative hearings last week.
Also (Not) in the News
Even experienced lawmakers get ignored sometimes, despite their best efforts to generate publicity.
Exhibit A: Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), who served up some red-meat quotes about state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick after she appeared at Ehrlich's side last week to testify in favor of slots.
In a news release hand-delivered to reporters moments after Grasmick finished testifying before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, Pinsky called her comments "abominable" and "totally inappropriate."
His beef? According to tradition, the state schools superintendent isn't supposed to advocate for specific tax increases or take sides in a tax debate. Grasmick herself acknowledged that her appearance in front of two legislative committees to advocate for a gambling tax was "unprecedented."
Even so, Pinsky's broadside didn't get him any ink.
Ehrlich Joins Press
Taking no chances on getting his views into the newspaper, Ehrlich began writing a biweekly column this week to "communicate directly" with the people. But it's unclear whether he'll actually read it.
The new governor hasn't read a newspaper since sometime during the fall gubernatorial campaign, when he swore off daily papers in an effort to keep his head and vision clear, said spokesman Henry Fawell.
Ehrlich mentioned the decision to President Bush and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani during their campaign stops in Maryland and both applauded the move, Fawell said. "They said, 'We stopped reading the papers a long time ago, and it's the best decision you can make.' "
As governor, Ehrlich doesn't ignore the Fourth Estate completely. He watches TV newscasts and has his staff brief him daily about relevant stories in The Post, the Baltimore Sun and other local papers.
Meanwhile, his new column, "Eye on Annapolis," targets "dozens of smaller weekly newspapers across the state" that "have neither the budget nor the staff" to hire their own reporters in Annapolis. The governor hopes to fill the void with his own insights.
"There's a lot going on in Annapolis right now," Ehrlich wrote. "People want to know what's happening."
The first installment of "Eye on Annapolis," for example, is a paean to the hardworking souls who helped steer the ship of state through last month's blizzard, dubbed "no ordinary snow" by the governor.
No mention of the increasingly messy debate over Ehrlich's slot machines bill. But perhaps that's coming later, as Ehrlich explores other avenues for "report[ing] to the citizens of Maryland," including "e-mail bulletins and newsletters, frequent appearances on talk radio, appearances on local and regional TV programs, and lengthy op-ed pieces" authored by Ehrlich for the big papers he doesn't read.
"I was pro-slots before it was cool to be pro-slots," Ehrlich said in testimony before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, recounting how he has advocated legalizing slot machines in Maryland for several years.