A baltimoresun.com reader from Belcamp: Do the governor and the other lawmakers, who have apparently known about what problems are going to occur if this rate increase occurs, know that their "cushy," well-paying jobs could be on the line if they don't come up with a solution for this problem? I don't think they realize how tough it's going to be for the average citizen to make these increased payments just to keep the lights and heat on. Their salaries will be able to afford the increase, whereas ours are another story.
Slots/gamblingJohn, Columbia: With all the discussion about gambling (and given the fact that the state already has gambling vis-a-vis the lottery and various bingo parlors), has there been any substantive look at adding casino gaming? (Detroit, Atlantic City and New Orleans all have it.) I ask because to simply add slots simply lumps Maryland into a slots pool of all the bordering states save for Virginia.
To that, is there any legal mechanism (or if so, any thought given) to have the slots/gambling issue put on the ballot as a referendum/ballot measure and let the voters decide what they want? I confess to not knowing the legality of a referendum/ballot measure.
Nitkin: In Maryland, there is no right for citizens to petition issues to referendum, unlike in states such as California, where the practice is common. Constitutional amendments approved by the Assembly do go before voters as referendum questions. There was some talk in 2004 of amending the state constitution to allow slot machines, but Ehrlich was opposed, saying at the time that the state constitution should not be tinkered with lightly.
Steven Wallach, Columbia: Why are they not working out a slots bill? [House Speaker Michael E.] Busch and Ehrlich will both lose the November elections because of this issue.
Nitkin: It's hard to imagine that slots will be a defining issue in the 2006 elections, given the state's current budget surplus, the fatigue that many politicians feel over the protracted debate on the issue, and the fact that Pennsylvania's slots facilities won't be up and running anytime soon.
DixonJamie Kelley, Locust Point: On March 12, The Sun went public with a story about Sheila Dixon and her involvement with $600,000 worth of work that was paid without a contract to someone who was related to her campaign. Follow-up stories talked about the possibility of an ethics violation, and we have since heard that there has been legal action against parties that are involved.
Why has this process taken so long? It seems that a review of this problem is a pretty cut-and-dried process and if Dixon did indeed break from ethics guidelines, then she should be removed from office. Has there been precedent for ethics breaches in the past, and if so, what was the timeline and who was involved?
Nitkin: Here's one past example: In early December 1997, The Sun reported that state Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat, had been using his Senate office to run a private consulting business. His clients included firms seeking state contracts.
The General Assembly named a special investigator (Jervis Finney, a former U.S. attorney and now counsel to Ehrlich), and within five weeks, the legislature's Ethics Committee concluded that Young abused his office and recommended that he be expelled from the state Senate. The expulsion vote came Jan. 16, 1998.
Young was indicted in December 1998 on extortion, bribery and filing a false tax return charges. He was acquitted by a jury in September 1999 and is now considering running for the Senate again.
Steele/Senate raceAlan, Mount Airy: Why do we keep hearing this myth about [Lt. Gov.] Michael S. Steele's success story? Even The New York Times bought into it in an article in its Sunday magazine recently. Steele failed the bar exam, so he can't practice law in Maryland; he got into trouble when he tried to handle his sister's divorce from Mike Tyson. His consulting firm never made a profit, and the Republicans had to pay him a salary to be their candidate for lieutenant governor so he could support his family.
While he was state Republican chairman, his party lost every statewide election. When he ran for the Republican nomination for state comptroller in 1998, he finished third even though he had the endorsement of the gubernatorial candidate, Ellen Sauerbrey. Some success story. He failed at everything he's ever been involved in. When can we expect some real scrutiny by the media of Steele's career?
Nitkin: Steele has received a fair amount of scrutiny, and he will get even more in the months ahead. Everything you mention has been reported in The Sun. Steele has passed the bar in Pennsylvania and has a compelling personal story.
Born into a working-class family, his mother was a laundress who refused to go on welfare because she did not want the government raising her children. He was on the verge of flunking out of Johns Hopkins University but refocused his efforts to get a degree. His campaign for Senate is focusing on that personal story, but his opponents will be sure to point out -- as you do -- his professional record.