General Assembly Journal - Part 11
The Slots Mess & a Hope for the Future
February 26, 2003
My earlier prediction of a pending clash of interests manifested itself in all of its glory last night. The House Ways and Means Committee (the Committee that deals with tax law, K-12 education, and gambling) held a public hearing on slots all day yesterday. The hearing started at 1 P.M., and ended at 9:30 P. M.
The Governor (Bob Ehrlich) and Lieutenant Governor (Michael Steele) both attended the hearing and offered testimony. This is rare, and demonstrates the importance of this issue to Governor Ehrlichís administration.
The downside of his appearance before a General Assembly Committee is that after the first time, anytime he fails to testify for one of his signature bills, the legislature might interpret that to mean the bill isnít all that important to him. Think about his charter schools bill, or his Project Exile proposal. Both of these are key issues, things he campaigned on. My guess is that his policy staff will present these matters, not the governor himself.
So, the marathon hearing went on, much to the glee of the Washington and Baltimore mass media. This spectacle was made to order for television, the classic political battle royal. During his testimony, Governor Ehrlich mentioned that the Speaker [Del. Michael Busch (D., Anne Arundel)] had resorted to playing the "race card", a reference to a trip made by the Speaker to churches with a predominantly African-American congregation.
This was not an aside made in a hallway, or a whispered charge to a reporter in the bullpen, the press offices in the basement of the Capitol. This statement was made on the record, in one of the most important and high profile hearings that will be held this year.
Speaker Busch, present when the remark was made, was afforded an opportunity to respond almost immediately after the Governorís criticism. He indicated his deep disappointment in the Governor for his intemperate and insensitive remark. The speaker dismissed the assertion that he had solicited these meetings, and stated that he had merely responded to unsolicited invitations. A subsequent presenter, an African-American preacher, reiterated the point when he stated that he was the person who invited the Speaker to the church in Baltimore.
You might wonder what all of this means to the Governorís Video Lottery Terminal (VLT) bill?
In point of fact, it means almost nothing. Those who are inclined to support the Governorís bill are still going to support it. Those opposed will remain opposed. Did this complicate the debate? Absolutely! We owe to the people of Maryland the effort to strive to maintain the highest level and quality of debate and discourse. Name-calling, demeaning representations, and the politics of personal destruction only reduce the confidence of voters in our governmental process.
My fear of the impending fiscal dilemma grows with each passing day. The administration continues to tweak the VLT (sounds like a deli sandwich) bill, the Speaker wants to kill the bill in committee, and the Governor will veto any tax increases. This classic political standoff bodes ill for Maryland, as the only course of action left after these political battles are fought is massive reductions in popular state programs, even the No Child Left Behind Maryland Act (Thornton).
I met with a group of PTA members and teachers this past (the 24th) Monday night. I shared my concerns and sought their opinions. One of the teachers who traveled down was Jon Evans. Jon teaches history and government at Brunswick High. Jon evokes fond memories of one of my high school teachers.
When I was a freshman and sophomore, I had a history and government teacher named David Thompson. Mr. Thompson made government come alive for me. Instead of black ink on a white page, he had the ability to bring these concepts right into our classroom. We had the same debates in that class at William Penn High that the U. S. Congress was having in Washington. In just two short years, a quiet, shy, gangly kid sensed a larger purpose out there.
Jon Evans does the same thing every single day. I see in him the best aspects of the teaching profession. In fact, the other teacher who came down, Joyce Lenzo, had a similar impact on my daughter Morgan.
Joyce uses a gentle and compassionate approach to infuse her students with a love for children. Both Joyce and Jon represent the best of our public education system. We can argue about the cost of education, the size of our classes, and the quality of the physical facilities. We canít argue about how fortunate we are to have teachers like Jon and Joyce in those rooms with our children.
As proof, I offer Mary Secoges, a student at Brunswick High. Mary is down here this week as a House of Delegates Page. She was also here during our first week, and I am so proud of her and her service as an ambassador. Mary is here because of Jon Evans, due to an influence not unlike my own described above. Mary will leave my colleagues with a great impression of young adults in Brunswick, and I think weíre in great hands. Maybe Iíll be able to vote for her as my District 3B Delegate someday!!!