- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday swore in as Maryland’s secretary of state John McDonough, a former slots lobbyist whose first duties will including writing the language on the November referendum to legalize up to 15,000 slot machines in the state.

Mr. McDonough, a longtime Prince George’s County Democratic activist, fills the job Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, has left vacant since taking office last year.

Mr. McDonough was registered to lobby for Cloverleaf Enterprises, which runs Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill, from 1999 through 2006, according to lobbyist filings with the State Ethics Commission.

The Prince George’s racetrack was among the early potential sites to put legalize slot machines, but was not included in the O’Malley plan that passed the General Assembly during a special session in November.

Mr. McDonough said he anticipates some people will not like the referendum language, but he vowed to be fair, like an umpire.

“If I call a strike the batter’s going to be unhappy, if I call a ball the catcher’s going to be unhappy,” he said at the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday. “All I can do is call balls and strikes and let the players play the game.”

An O’Malley aide said the governor knew Mr. McDonough had lobbied for Rosecroft but made clear he no longer holds that job.

Anti-slots activists are among those most concerned about Mr. McDonough’s word choices.

“It certainly is troubling that the most important referendum ballot question in a number of years is going to be in the hands of a former slots lobbyist,” said Scott Arcenaux, senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots. “Although we will certainly give folks the benefit of the doubt.”

Mr. O’Malley praised Mr. McDonough as someone who would be able to bridge the political divide between the Baltimore and D.C. metro regions - the two largest power bases in Maryland politics.

“He is a person that has the ability to really bring all sort of parties to the table and treat everyone with dignity and respect,” he said.

Mr. McDonough worked at the Prince George’s law firm of O’Malley, Miles, Nylen and Gilmore through 2006 before starting his own law firm in Prince George’s.

One of his daughters works as an aide to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat and longtime slots supporter with deep roots in Prince George’s politics, stemming back to his first run for state office in 1974.

Mr. McDonough also was chairman of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer’s many reelection campaigns and worked on former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s failed bid for governor in 2002.

Maryland lawmakers are banking on slot machines to generate $600 million to $700 million for the state - much of which lawmakers already budgeted for over the next few years in the form of new spending for school construction and higher education.

Bond rating agencies reminded lawmakers last week that the state’s coveted AAA bond rating - which affords the state lower interest rates - could be in jeopardy if voters don’t approve the slots measure.

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