Slots back in view as O’Malley begins transition

Miller says it’s an issue that can’t be ducked

Friday, Nov. 10, 2006

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Governor-elect Martin O’Malley announces Thursday afternoon that his running mate, Anthony G. Brown (right), will head his transition team and Baltimore City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler (left) will serve as its executive director. O’Malley won 53 percent of the vote Tuesday, not including almost 200,000 absentee ballots.

BALTIMORE — The campaign for the next four years of state government has ended, but its opening rounds could replay major battles of the past four.

Slot machine gambling could shape up to be one of the first battles of the new O’Malley administration. And the members of the Public Service Commission might need new jobs.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Thursday the state needs slots to provide new revenue for schools. Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley (D) has said he supports legalizing slot machines at racetracks.

‘‘He can’t backpedal on that,” Miller said of O’Malley’s slots stance. ‘‘We need the resources.”

But House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis dismissed the notion.

‘‘That’s so far down the line,” Busch said, adding that the state is still projecting its revenues for the next fiscal year. ‘‘I hope we don’t waste any political energy on that like we did the [past] four years,” he said.

The question of legalizing slot machines, and collecting millions in revenue, consumed the General Assembly during Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s term. Busch scored major political victories by halting expansion of gambling.

At a Baltimore City Hall news conference, Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony G. Brown said slot machine gambling could be one of the issues taken up by transition committees, which will be set up in the next couple of weeks.

Brown to lead transition

O’Malley named Brown as the chairman of the transition committee and Baltimore Solicitor Ralph Tyler as the transition’s executive director.

At the news conference, O’Malley said he hoped to have names for a broader committee next week. Members would help with policy development, he said. The transition effort is looking for office space in Annapolis. They have set up a Web site,

O’Malley also said he wanted to move quickly on his promise to have a new Public Service Commission.

‘‘Consistent with what we said during the campaign, we will have a new Public Service Commission, and we will very shortly, I hope, that’s more professional,” he said. ‘‘But it is consistent with our drive to find more professional people. There were few public agencies that failed quite so badly as the Public Service Commission.”

O’Malley sued the PSC over its decision to allow Baltimore Gas and Electric to raise its rates 72 percent, saying the PSC had not provided sufficient scrutiny. The suit continued a protracted debate over electricity rates that led to a special summer session of the General Assembly.

O’Malley said he would not use partisanship to target firings, the way Democrats accused the Ehrlich administration.

‘‘We’re about going after professional people regardless of party to step up and take leadership roles,” the mayor said.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus said O’Malley will have the right to put his people in.

‘‘If there’s illegal stuff in what they’re doing, we’ll deal with it,” said Stoltzfus (R-Dist. 38) of Westover.

Stoltzfus reluctantly served on a legislative commission that examined the Ehrlich administration’s personnel practices. Democrats issued a report outlining what it called an abuse. Stoltzfus called it a ‘‘farce” and ‘‘absolute foolishness.”

‘‘The citizens don’t expect us to get into such a quagmire,” he said in a telephone interview.

O’Malley said state employees who are doing their jobs would continue to do their jobs.

‘‘We are looking forward to a broadly inclusive transition effort that will reflect the diversity of our state,” he said.

James C. ‘‘Chip” DiPaula Jr., Ehrlich’s chief of staff, will head up the transition from the Ehrlich administration. DiPaula said Ehrlich’s people would help O’Malley’s people. The Department of Budget and Management will work with the new administration so that the next spending plan will be O’Malley’s, he said.

Lots of appointment talk

Few names of potential appointees have been floated by anyone close to the new governor. But advisers are pushing a wide range of politicians who are out of a job because of the 2006 election.

Miller has some Cabinet suggestions, including former delegate George W. Owings III, a longtime district mate of Miller’s. The Senate president wants Owings to stay as secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Miller also would like O’Malley to find a place for Stuart O. Simms, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general and held Cabinet posts under Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), and Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a moderate Republican from Howard County who was defeated Tuesday by Democrat James N. Robey, the outgoing Howard County executive.

However unlikely, Miller stood by his earlier suggestion that Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, at one time O’Malley’s rival for governor, would make a fine secretary of transportation.

Other names include state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat who gave up running for re-election in a failed attempt to become the congresswoman from the 3rd District.

On slots, Miller said Maryland is surrounded by states that have legalized slot machines. O’Malley needs to convince Busch and House Democrats that gambling is the right way to go, Miller said. O’Malley aides said he and Busch have spoken since the election, but the subject of slots has not come up.

‘‘We have to move forward on that issue ... it can’t just come from the Senate,” said Miller (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach. ‘‘If he wants it, we’ll get it through the Senate, but it can’t be all about the House and Senate butting heads. It has to be his initiative.”

One of O’Malley’s first tasks will be to learn how to co-exist with Miller. Although he is an O’Malley supporter, Miller is arguably the most influential powerbroker in Annapolis.

Miller told The Gazette that O’Malley must ‘‘broaden his base” of advisers to emulate an administration like Gov. Marvin Mandel’s. Mandel had staffers familiar with all areas of the state and various constituencies.

‘‘He has a tight-knit group that helps him run City Hall ... they are all very young and very energetic, but he needs to broaden his base to be in touch with all areas of the state,” Miller said.

Busch said he expected the new administration to focus on the Chesapeake Bay, health care access and affordability, school construction and higher education.

O’Malley said no work has begun on a legislative agenda, and he expected Brown to play a big role drafting it.

‘‘The things we talked about in the campaign ... it was heavily weighted to administrative and management changes instead of new laws,” O’Malley said.

Brown said he foresaw few disagreements in the next four years.

‘‘Given that governor-elect and I share same values, the same beliefs, the same goals, I think it going to be a rather smooth administration,” he said. ‘‘Will there be disagreements? In the course of human interaction, there always is. But not so significant that it’s going to create issues in administration or in governance.”

There is speculation around Annapolis that O’Malley will try to persuade Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D) of Montgomery County to take a high-profile administration job to make room for an African American — most likely from Prince George’s County — to take her place on the powerful Board of Public Works. Former Prince George’s County delegate Rushern L. Baker III has been mentioned for the post.

One potential departure could be state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Grasmick and O’Malley sparred over an attempted state school takeover in Baltimore earlier this year.

On Thursday, O’Malley said he has not spoken with Grasmick in a year and a half.

The State Board of Education appoints the superintendent, but the governor appoints the 12-member board. Seven members’ terms will be up within the next two years.