- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2012

The outcome of Friday’s ruling on Virginia’s ballot access lawsuit couldn’t have been too much fun for the campaigns of Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or Jon Huntsman Jr.

But U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. sure seemed to be having a swell time perched behind the bench, saying himself at the start of the hearing that it’s been “a lot of fun” working on it. He even found time to sneak in a wardrobe change Friday.

“Notice anything different?” he asked the courtroom after he returned from a brief recess just before lunch.
After there were no takers, he answered his own question.

“It’s a new robe,” he boasted. “I wore the old one for a year without cleaning it.”

Later on, Virginia Solicitor General E. Duncan Getchell Jr. asked Judge Gibney if he could ask Donald Palmer, secretary of the Board of Elections, one more question on redirect.

“You may have two,” quipped the judge. “I’m sure you will.”

But Mr. Getchell had more than two and didn’t quite manage to slip them past the judge.
“Five questions,” he said. “Counted ‘em.”

O’Malley launches floater … air ball

We’ll likely never know Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s political strategy in deciding on the General Assembly’s opening day to float the idea of increasing the state sales tax.

Was it a trial balloon to gauge whether lawmakers or the public would be receptive to the hike as an alternative to expected efforts to increase the state’s gasoline tax or double the so-called “flush tax” to $60?

Or was it an attempt to redirect the spotlight on a day traditionally reserved for well wishes, speeches and babies on the chamber floors? Whatever the strategy, the idea seemed more like a political version of an air ball judging from the reactions.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Calvert Democrat, told reporters the idea was a “nonstarter” and a “pipe dream.”
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican, stayed more on script, calling any tax increase a “jobs killer.”

The announcement even apparently sent some business owners into a panic and even surprised the Democratic governor’s senior aides, who now say the idea is unlikely to be part of Mr. O’Malley’s budget proposal.

Legends or term-limit poster children?

The opening of the Maryland Assembly also marked a pair of important milestones for two legislators.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch was sworn in as speaker for the 10th consecutive year, making him the state’s longest-serving speaker in history.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., Baltimore County Democrat and the state’s longest-serving lawmaker, celebrated his 50th regular session in the legislature.

During a speech in the House, Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, also recognized some of the House’s most tenured members, including Delegates Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, and Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery Democrat, who joined the assembly in the mid-1970s.

“As I was preparing this presentation today, they said this is a good reason for term limits,” he quipped.

— David Hill, David Sherfinski and Joseph Weber contributed to this report.

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