When filling openings in his administration, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has frequently turned to friends in the General Assembly -- with a little-noticed consequence, according to a gun rights publication.

"Ehrlich Takes Out More Pro-Gun Delegates Than Sarah Brady Did Last Election," proclaims a headline in the September issue of Tripwire, referring to the well-known gun-control advocate. Her husband, James Brady, the press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was shot and seriously wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan.

"Turnover . . . hits us hard," the gun-rights newsletter says, "as friends who've worked hard for us are replaced by junior appointees who may feel they owe our issue nothing."

The most recently departed friend cited by the newsletter is former Del. Carmen Amedori (R-Carroll), whom Ehrlich named to the Maryland Parole Commission.

Her appointment, Tripwire says, "came hard on the heels of another change: the naming of Del. George W. Owings III (D-Calvert) as Ehrlich's secretary of veterans affairs. "As majority whip for more than a decade, George was a friendly voice . . . [who] knew our issue and never minced words when he spoke forcefully for us, whether on the House floor or at community meetings in his district."

Other departures cited by the publication include: Del. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins (R-Charles) who became superintendent of the Maryland State Police; Del. Robert L. Flanagan (R-Howard), who became transportation secretary; Del. Ken Schisler (R-Talbot), who left for the Public Service Commission; and Alfred W. Redmer Jr. (R-Baltimore County), who became insurance commissioner.

'A Need for Speed'

Maryland Democrats sought to turn last weekend's President's Cup Nationals drag races into an advertisement for their presidential ticket and other Democrats on the ballot in November.

The party's coordinated campaign sponsored the Friday, Saturday and Sunday races at Maryland International Raceway at Budds Creek in St. Mary's County. That entitled Maryland Victory 2004 to set up a tent for campaign literature, display banners through the raceway and place campaign signs on the guardrails around the track, among other things.

The party touted its efforts as "a novel way to get your message to the people. . . . But like anyone else, Maryland Democrats have a need for speed and are hellbent on winning their own President's Cup National on Nov. 2."

'Fiscal Wet Kisses'

The Progressive Maryland Education Fund released a list last week of what it dubbed "outrageous giveaways" -- worth more than $162 million a year -- in the state tax code.

Most of the items detailed in the report were inserted into the budget by lawmakers in past years and "are simply fiscal wet kisses to rich individuals and big corporations," the group contends. It argues that reversing the policies could cushion the blow of some looming budget cuts likely to target the poor.

Some of the big-ticket items cited by the group are fairly well-known: $34.8 million a year for an HMO exemption on insurance premium taxes and $27.1 million a year resulting from a reduction in the state inheritance tax in 2000.

But the remaining 26 items targeted by Progressive Maryland include some more obscure breaks:

* A measure that allows country clubs to declare golf fairways as "open space" and claim special local property tax status. Annual cost: $650,000.

* A property tax exemption on aircraft that applies not only to commercial airlines but to personal Lear jets. Annual cost: Unknown.

* A franchise credit for the purchase of Maryland-mined coal, which aids an industry the group says is "tiny and doomed." Annual cost: $9 million.

* A sales tax exemption for the sale of gold and other precious metals. Annual cost: $700,000.

Franchot's Health Plans

Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery) has found a way to link two issues recently making headlines: cuts in health care spending under consideration by the Ehrlich administration and a legislative push to allow importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

Franchot said he would require the state to buy Canadian drugs -- and use the savings to increase spending on a breast cancer and cervical cancer screening program. The program, which benefits the poor, was targeted for a $2.5 million cut in an Ehrlich administration document that leaked recently.

"We don't need to cut programs and put people at risk," Franchot said during an interview in which he pitched his idea.

Despite its listing among possible cuts, administration officials were quick to play down the possibility that Ehrlich would propose a reduction in funding for cancer screening tests when his budget is released in January.

Franchot said he plans to pursue his plan nevertheless. Spending could certainly increase among current levels, he said.

DEL. PETER

FRANCHOT