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March 14, 2005

General Assembly Journal 2005 - Part 9

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

What a week! I've received more political threat email in the last two weeks than at any time in my public service career, bar none!

All of this mail, mostly from churches and parishioners, is over the issue of slot machines. I have received an historic number of negative emails, all over an issue that I don't think we'll even have to deal with until after 2007!

Here's my predicament. I voted for the bill, House Bill 1361, and I have no one else to blame. I voted Yea on a bad bill for all of the wrong reasons!

Here's the real deal. I cast a vote to potentially put slot machines in my own county. I cast a vote that the county commissioners voted to oppose. I voted for a gaming expansion that is counter-intuitive to most of my core beliefs.

The bill I voted for, while putting slots in my own county, sends most of the revenue to other counties, in jurisdictions whose representatives refused to allow slots.

I even cast a vote that has cost me some longtime supporters. In fact, while a lot of people told me they wouldn't mind slots, I don't recall too many people telling me to cast that vote.

So, why did I do it? Believe me, I've asked myself that at least a thousand times since that day.

I voted for a bad bill because - to move the discussion forward - there had to be a House vote on a slots bill, ANY slots bill. The issue would have died again had there not been bills passed by both the House and the Senate.

I voted for a bad bill because I do not believe that Maryland residents, especially the residents of District 3B, could afford a major tax increase.

We defeated a $1 billion dollar tax bill earlier in this term, so we know how the House leadership planned to solve our funding problems.

I voted for a bad bill because my Governor, the guy who I believe is the best person to lead our State, needed to keep the process alive. Governor (Bob) Ehrlich laid out a vision for Maryland when he ran for his job.

His vision included making Maryland business-friendly, holding the line on tax increases, maintaining a commitment to fully funding public education improvements, and using revenue from slot machines to fulfill these promises.

For two years in a row, Speaker of the House Mike Busch (D., Anne Arundel) has stymied that agenda, using his control over the committee process to scuttle various slots bills.

This year was different. From the opening gavel, the slots debate had a different tone and feel. Knowing that the chances for a controversial bill would be much smaller in an election year, this seemed like the time!

Well, you know the story. We did get a bill out. We got out a bill that is so different from the Senate version that you couldn't even call them relatives. Our bi-cameral legislature requires that each chamber vote on a version of a bill, and that a conference committee resolve any differences.

The leaders of the two chambers appoint the conferees, and have a lot to say about the shape of the final product.

In our current entanglement, Speaker Busch has refused to appoint the House members to the conference committee. He opines that since the bill passed by one vote, there can be no changes to it. Any change suggests that members would go from supporting the bill to opposing it.

The Frederick County delegation, with the exception of Del. Joe Bartlett (R., 4th), all supported the bill with the logic I cited above. We'll all have the same challenge in our explanation. We also met with both Bill Rickman and John Poole.

Mr. Rickman already runs a slots venue, Delaware Park outside of Wilmington, in my native state of Delaware. He also owns a large parcel of land east of Frederick Airport. He might bid on a license to run a slots venue in Frederick if that were a possibility.

Mr. Poole owns the Cracked Claw, and would like "some" slot machines there, too. Unfortunately, neither man should spend too many sleepless hours, since it just isn't going to happen.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted last Friday to conform the House bill to the Senate bill. That means that the bill passed by the House looks exactly like the Senate version.

Speaker Busch is not obligated to even put that bill to a vote, and even if he did, it will fail, because that's what he wants to happen; in other words, a standoff.

So, there I am, a Yea vote on a bill for something politically unpopular in my own county. I can try to explain that my Governor needed my vote, and I can try to explain that we needed to keep the issue alive.

I can try to convince constituents that I really believed that the Senate would make the bill better, that Frederick County probably wouldn't have ended up with slots in the end anyway.

"Sure", they'd say. "But you still voted for slots in Frederick County." I couldn't argue with them.

* * * * * * * * * *

Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport.. what a mouthful! If a bill recently passed by the House of Delegates makes it through the state Senate, that's how we would refer to BWI.

This whole naming thing seems a little foolish to me. We carry it to ridiculous extremes, like naming state symbols and designating buildings, structures, and parkland.

This one seems fairly straightforward on the surface. Thurgood Marshall, a native Marylander, clearly established himself as a force in American history. He argued the Brown v. Board of Education case, and his careful, forceful manner established an amazing record of civil and human rights advocacy as a justice of the Supreme Court of The United States.

The International Terminal Building at BWI is already named for William Donald Schafer, former Baltimore mayor, former Maryland governor and now state comptroller.

African American legislators argued that it is both fitting and appropriate to designate the entire airport in honor of Justice Marshall.

Economic development types and business owners in the BWI technology corridor expressed concern over changing the name by which the airport and surrounding businesses are now known.

The House passed the bill on a very wide margin, but it looks like the fight will be in the Senate. Based on the fear that failure to pass the bill might offend minority voters, maybe we better start practicing the new name.

Let's all say it together: "TMBWI, TMBWI, TMBWI!"

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