- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

First, the Democratic National Committee announced it would give Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine $5 million for his campaign for governor. Virginia and New Jersey are the only states that will hold gubernatorial elections this year, and Democrats are determined to prove they can win in a Southern state.

Republicans sneered at the announcement and said they are certain Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, their party’s presumed gubernatorial nominee, will outraise his opponent. The latest fund-raising reports are due tomorrow.

Kate Obenshain Griffin, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said she is confident the Republican National Committee would match or exceed the Democratic National Committee’s donation.

“I’m sure the RNC will be very involved in this race,” she said.

The House of Delegates’ Democratic Caucus announced it has donated $75,000 to the Virginia Democratic Party, some of the proceeds from its $750,000 civil settlement in the Republican eavesdropping case.

House of Delegates Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall told the caucus he expects legislators to be bipartisan in their work this year, when all 100 delegates are up for re-election.

“I’ve seen a number of very good signals coming from other sides of the aisle,” he said. “We were encouraged by the response from the other side. … We think there is hope of having a session that addresses the core values that we stand for.”

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, won a lot of praise for his State of the Commonwealth address, which stressed bipartisanship and fiscal discipline. The governor’s speech was carried on a C-SPAN channel and mentioned by several national political pundits who are keeping an eye on him in case he decides to run for the U.S. Senate or presidency after leaving office.

• What’s in a name?

When Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge held a press conference last week to highlight inaugural security, he made a point to thank D.C. officials, especially the city administrator — Robert “Cobb.”

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb gazed across the stage as a slight smile crossed his face. He was a last-minute replacement for Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“I guess [Mr. Williams is] under the weather. He’s probably been hanging around outside without a topcoat for a couple days, or whatever,” Mr. Ridge said. “I wish him well.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Bobb’s name appeared as “Mr. Cobb” in the Department of Homeland Security’s transcripts of the press conference.

• Social bills

Virginia House Democrats will be forming a small group that will study the social-issues bills expected to surface this session.

Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran said the group won’t take a position on the legislation, but instead will collect the information and present it to the group when the bills arise.

“You would identify them and present them so the caucus is aware of what’s out there,” the Alexandria Democrat said, asking for volunteers to notify him if they are interested.

Some of the bills expected to generate debate are a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman and a bill that would require drivers be able to speak English in order to obtain a driver’s license.

• For ethics’ sake

The Maryland Democratic Party last week filed a State Ethics Commission complaint, saying Republicans placed ads targeting three Anne Arundel County senators without registering as a “lobbying entity.”

“Maryland will not stand idle” while Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the Maryland Republican Party “decide which laws they will abide and which ones they will ignore,” Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said.

Mr. Lierman said Republicans purchased at least $25,000 worth of ads telling the public to call Sens. John C. Astle, James E. DeGrange Sr. and Philip C. Jimeno and urge them to support the governor’s vetoes.

Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane called the complaint a desperate political shot and said the party is not doing anything Democrats have not done in the past.

“What Maryland’s liberal Democratic faction is trying to do here is distract us from the facts with a shameless use of the state prosecutor,” he said.

• Crabfest

Five Maryland lawmakers have won the Maryland Accountability Project’s first annual “Crabbie” award — but they might want to skip the award ceremony.

The state government watchdog group has begun issuing the award to legislators with poor voting attendance, based on records from the 2004 General Assembly.

Of the five Crabbie winners:

• Sen. Nathaniel Exum, Prince George’s County Democrat, missed 107 votes.

• Delegate Nathaniel T. Oaks, Baltimore Democrat, missed 207 votes.

• Delegate Justin D. Ross, Prince George’s County Democrat, missed 145 votes.

• Delegate Tony E. Fulton, Baltimore Democrat, missed 89 votes.

• Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, missed 86 votes.

• Reform resonates

The political debate over how to reform the state’s medical-malpractice insurance system seems to have resonated with Marylanders.

A new poll shows concern over health-care access and costs has risen dramatically over the past year to become the most important issue for Maryland voters.

Patrick Gonzales, whose nonpartisan firm Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies conducted the poll Jan. 3-8, said the debate and the recent special legislative session have increased “voter anxiety” over whether rising insurance rates will force more doctors to close their practices.

Statewide, 31 percent of voters said health-care access and costs are the most important issues, up from 11 percent in June.

Lawmakers met Tuesday for the end of their special session to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s veto of their medical-malpractice insurance reform legislation.

Of those voters polled by Gonzales, 46 percent said they backed the veto and 47 percent said they disapproved.

The General Assembly’s 2005 session began Wednesday.

Support for legalizing slot-machine gambling in Maryland slipped below 50 percent for the first time in nearly two years, according to the Gonzales poll. Of those surveyed, 49 percent said they favor slots, down six points from August.

Those results differ from a poll conducted by the Baltimore Sun Jan. 4-5. The newspaper poll found slots support at a new high of 56 percent.

The margin of error for the Sun’s poll, a survey of 800 likely voters conducted by Potomac Inc. of Bethesda, was 3.5 percentage points. The Gonzales poll of 804 registered voters also had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The Republican governor, beginning his third year in office, is holding onto a high approval rating, the Gonzales poll found.

Statewide, 55 percent said they approve of the job he is doing (89 percent of Republicans approved; 36 percent of Democrats approved).

Thirty-seven percent said they disapprove of his performance.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, both Democrats, also kept their high job-approval ratings, which continue to transcend party lines.

Sixty-four percent approve of Mr. Curran’s performance, while 60 percent approve of Mr. Schaefer’s performance.

More Republicans than Democrats said they approve of the performance by the Democratic comptroller, who is a former governor and Baltimore mayor.

Christina Bellantoni, Jon Ward and Robert Redding Jr. contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports

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