- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Maryland General Assembly is certain to attempt to overturn Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s vetoes on raising the minimum wage and requiring Wal-Mart to pay more for health care, top Democrats said last week.

In speeches to the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch vowed to revive those bills, calling them important to the state, even if they are unpopular with business.

The lawmakers said they were especially interested in getting the three-fifths vote needed to defeat Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of the so-called “Wal-Mart bill,” which would require the retailer to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on health care benefits or pay more into the state Medicaid fund.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Miller said.

The lawmakers were speaking to about 200 state Chamber of Commerce members gathered for a legislative-session preview Thursday.

Two top Republican lawmakers — House Minority Leader George Edwards and Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus — said they would fight the veto override, although Democrats have enough votes to override them without Republican support.

Mr. Edwards warned that if the Wal-Mart bill becomes law, it is likely lawmakers will eventually make similar demands on smaller businesses.

Right now, the legislation is written so that only Wal-Mart would be affected.

“Next thing you know, it’s going to be everybody. That’s what we’re concerned about,” Mr. Edwards said.

The chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Terry Neimeyer, said businesses are almost universally opposed to the Wal-Mart bill being revived and are even more opposed to that than the bill to raise the minimum wage by a dollar, to $6.15 per hour.

“We think it’s poor public policy,” he said.

All four lawmakers predicted a rancorous election-year session.

“I think this year could get ugly,” Mr. Stoltzfus said.

Deputies and czars

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty says, if he is elected mayor, he would create a deputy mayor of education position to submit budgets and monitor the District’s beleaguered school system.

Other Democratic mayoral candidates have said they would like to make the public schools superintendent more a part of the mayor’s Cabinet.

“My commitment is, whether or not the superintendent is part of the mayor’s Cabinet or not, I am going to focus on fixing the schools every day,” Mr. Fenty said. “This is the No. 1 issue, and right now you have everything being discussed, except education.”

The Ward 4 Democrat has said he would consider trimming the deputy mayor system created by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has said that he will not seek a third term.

Meanwhile, lobbyist Michael A. Brown, who also is running for mayor, said he would implement a system of czars for AIDS, statehood, regional development and education.

The Beamer usher

State Sen. H. Russell Potts, the Winchester Republican running for governor as an independent, says he helped get Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer to Blacksburg.

Mr. Potts was a professional sports promoter, college athletics director and an executive with baseball’s Chicago White Sox before he entered politics.

He told a Virginia Municipal League gathering last week that he helped usher in the Beamer era.

Mr. Potts and Mr. Beamer had known each other since the early 1970s, when both were at the University of Maryland. At the time, Mr. Beamer was a graduate assistant football coach, and Mr. Potts was an assistant athletics director.

In 1987, Mr. Beamer was head coach at Murray State University and pursuing the Virginia Tech coaching vacancy.

Both say Mr. Beamer called Mr. Potts on the eve of his job interview seeking some advice.

Mr. Beamer is now in his 19th season at his alma mater, despite entreaties from other schools. His undefeated team is ranked No. 3 nationally this season and hoping for a chance to play in the Rose Bowl national title game.

mPoll positions

The two leading Democrats in Maryland’s governor’s race both seized on a new poll that showed them leading Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. last week.

The statewide poll by nonpartisan Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies showed Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan ahead of the Republican governor 45 percent to 44 percent. It had Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley leading Mr. Ehrlich 48 percent to 42 percent.

“This poll turns conventional wisdom on its head by proving that Doug Duncan can beat Bob Ehrlich in a general election match-up,” Duncan campaign manager Scott Arceneaux said.

“Doug Duncan spent the summer visiting every county in the state and the city of Baltimore, and the results of the effort are in,” he said. “And what is most exciting is that the poll shows Doug still has room to grow as Doug continues to introduce himself to more and more voters.”

The O’Malley campaign, however, viewed the poll differently.

A white paper circulated by the campaign said Mr. O’Malley’s strong showing in Baltimore County, as compared with Mr. Duncan, demonstrated that the mayor is the best candidate to avoid a repeat of the 2002 election, when then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend ended Maryland Democrats’ more than three-decade winning streak in governor’s races.

Mr. Duncan’s support base — the Washington suburbs — historically go to the Democratic candidate by at least 70 percent anyway, the paper said. But losing badly in Baltimore County, as Mrs. Townsend did and Mr. Duncan likely would, too, costs Democrats elections.

In the poll, Mr. Ehrlich led Mr. Duncan in the Baltimore suburbs 53 percent to 34 percent. The governor led Mr. O’Malley 49 percent to 42 percent.

The O’Malley campaign concluded that the mayor’s popularity in Baltimore County made him the better candidate to go toe-to-toe with Mr. Ehrlich.

However, Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller dismissed the poll’s findings.

“These polls are a stitch in time and the real poll is Election Day,” she said.

Tone control

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner says he is concerned about the tone of the race to succeed him.

In particular, he criticized Republican Jerry W. Kilgore’s death-penalty ads as being “over the top.”

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, discussed the race between Mr. Kilgore and Democrat Timothy M. Kaine on WTOP Radio last week.

The governor said he hopes the candidates will get back to more important issues, such as transportation, education and keeping communities safe.

He said issues such as the death penalty are important, too, but take up only a tiny portion of a governor’s time.

In TV ads, Mr. Kilgore has attacked Mr. Kaine over his opposition to the death penalty.

Mr. Kaine’s ads say he will carry out the death penalty if elected governor. Mr. Warner said he trusts Mr. Kaine to carry out the death penalty if elected.

Endorsement

Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch has taken a business group to task for the rating system it uses to decide which politicians to endorse.

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said the system means the group won’t endorse any state lawmakers of color next year. And he said he thinks it reflects poorly on the chamber.

The comment last week at a conference in Cambridge garnered an angry response from Robert Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsible Government.

Mr. Worcester insisted the system has nothing to do with race. Mr. Busch said he was only pointing out the business group’s likely result and meant no personal attack on Mr. Worcester.

Trespasses

A political candidate in Albemarle County, Va., lost his free-speech argument in a trespassing case.

Circuit Court Judge Steve Helvin indicated last week that he was sympathetic to Richard Collins’ defense but found him guilty anyway and fined him $50.

Mr. Collins was handing out political literature at a Charlottesville-area shopping center when he was arrested May 7 after refusing the manager’s order to leave.

Mr. Collins argued that private shopping centers have now become public centers in lieu of town squares where free speech — and especially political speech — are protected under the state’s constitution.

Though Mr. Collins lost his primary bid for the 57th District House of Delegates seat, he was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Rutherford Institute in his attempt to expand the protection of speech.

The civil rights organizations have filed a civil suit on Mr. Collins’ behalf in Albemarle County Circuit Court.

• Robert Redding Jr. and S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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