- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley said yesterday he’s tired of dealing with the issue of legalizing slot machines in Maryland, just weeks after calling state lawmakers back to Annapolis to pass his gambling legislation.

“Let’s get beyond it,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat. “I’m sick of the issue. Let’s move on to other things.”

The legislation gives Maryland residents the final vote on slots as a referendum question on the November ballot.

Mr. O’Malley would not commit to publicly campaigning for slots and said he will be happy with whatever voters decide.

The governor — now starting the second year of his four-year term — also said he will get help from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to try to remove state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

The governor has famously battled with Mrs. Grasmick, a supporter of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and has frequently said he wants her fired.

Her attendance at Cabinet meetings “just drives the governor crazy,” Mr. Miller, Southern Maryland Democrat, said yesterday at the same forum at which Mr. O’Malley made his comments. It was aired on “The Marc Steiner Show” on WYPR-FM.

Mr. O’Malley has been upset with Mrs. Grasmick since at least 2004, when he was Baltimore mayor and she wanted to take control of the city’s failing school system. Mrs. Grasmick attempted to take control of four failing high schools in 2006 and make the city find a third party to run seven poorly performing middle schools. However, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly blocked the move.

Education Week just ranked the state’s public school system third in the country, behind Massachusetts’ and New York’s. Virginia was ranked No. 5, while the District’s was ranked the lowest in the country.

Mr. O’Malley called Mrs. Grasmick a “poster child” for President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education initiative and a “pawn for the Republican Party.”

Mrs. Grasmick has served under four Maryland governors — Democrats William Donald Schaefer and Parris N. Glendening, Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O’Malley. She was appointed in 1991 under Mr. Schaefer.

Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Miller have said they will try to rewrite state law so they can oust Mrs. Grasmick.

However, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, the key third player in an ouster attempt, has been more circumspect.

The Grasmick and slots issues could sidetrack Mr. O’Malley’s efforts to push his legislative agenda.

His support for slots has always been tepid, calling them “morally bankrupt” in 2003 when Mr. Ehrlich proposed legalizing them. But he said last year he wanted to legalize slots to help clear the divisive issue from the table.

Mr. O’Malley’s plan, passed when lawmakers returned last fall for a special assembly session, calls for as many as 15,000 machines in five locations.

Mr. Miller has consistently pushed the issue and said Marylanders will either vote for slots or face serious budget consequences — including a long-term, $500 million budget shortfall.

“This is the third rail of our budget solution,” he said. “We have to pass that.”

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican, said Mr. O’Malley’s comments yesterday sounded “like he just slammed Senate President Mike Miller.”

“I guess during the special session [Mr. O’Malley] wasn’t serious,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

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