- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Prince George's County has its most powerful delegation to the Maryland General Assembly in years, perhaps ever, and the added benefit of Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele's hometown kinship, which gives them more clout to bring state funds to their county.
Some members of the delegation, all liberal Democrats who hold four House leadership positions and the chairmanship of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, say their connection to Mr. Steele will sweeten the agenda of the state's first Republican executive in 34 years.
But they are all skittish about legalizing slot-machine gambling at horse tracks a cornerstone of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plan to close a $1.3 billion budget shortfall.
Mr. Ehrlich has proposed legalizing slots at four racetracks, including Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's County and Laurel Racetrack just over the county line in Anne Arundel County. Many lawmakers have said they will defer to the local delegations when it comes to slots, adding to the weight of the Prince George's County votes.
The county's Senate delegation includes Sen. Ulysses Currie, who was just appointed chairman of the Budget Committee. He is considered a loyal deputy of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who supports slots. But Mr. Currie has refused to take a firm position on the issue.
Another Prince George's County leader is Sen. Leo E. Green, vice chairman of the Judicial Proceeding Committee, which will be key to passing of any of Mr. Ehlrich's proposals to alter gun laws or crack down on gun crimes. The committee's chairman, Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County, is seen as a staunch gun-control advocate who will try to block any attempt by Mr. Ehrlich to ease Maryland's strict gun laws.
In the House, the county's lawmakers include Delegate Dereck E. Davis, recently appointed chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, which will handle Mr. Ehrlich's anticipated proposals to expand high-tech industry and establish biotechnology incubators to foster that industry.
Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr. retained his post as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and is seen as a foe of changing the state's gun laws.
Delegate Carolyn J.B. Howard is chairman of the Black Caucus, and Delegate Pauline H. Menes is the House parliamentarian. Both are leadership positions.
The delegation earned its leadership jobs partly through party loyalty, but continuing to vote the party line could put its members at odds with the Republican governor. They expect their relationship with Mr. Steele will help bring state funds to Prince George's County but are less enthusiastic about his ability to coerce the delegation into supporting Mr. Ehlrich's agenda.
"I'm sure it will have some influence, to what extent has yet to be determined," said Delegate Victor R. Ramirez. "I think we are open-minded."
Delegate Marvin E. Holmes Jr. said the delegation will present a united front and support only Mr. Ehrlich's proposals that are in line with their agenda.
"I'm not for slots," Mr. Holmes said, adding that he would consider voting for slots only if Mr. Ehrlich could win the support of the Republican Caucus. That is the same position espoused by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who is considered the largest obstacle to passing a slots bill.
"That's the governor's bill. That's the governor's baby," Mr. Holmes said.
Mrs. Howard, chairman of the county's House delegation, said Prince George's County legislators will have a strong voice in the governor's office, regardless of the stand the delegation takes on slots and other issues. She credited Mr. Ehrlich with opening the executive office to all members of the Democrat-majority General Assembly.
"We will be at the table," she said. "The Republican leadership is reaching out. What more can you ask from a governor?"
Mrs. Howard said the county did not enjoy as much access from outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who hails from Prince George's County. "We were not at the table when some initial decisions [affecting the county] were made," she said.

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