Michael E. Busch is speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. But he's also the only Democrat among three delegates from the highly competitive 30th Legislative District in Anne Arundel County.
So on the issue of casino gambling, Busch faces one of those dilemmas that no politician can find comfortable. The chief opponent of a casino in Prince George's County, which the House has so far blocked, is the owner of the Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills -- not in Busch's district but in his home county. And one of the most vocal allies of Maryland Live owner David Cordish in opposing a Prince George's casino is Republican Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold, who has insisted that competition from the south would imperil the county's investments in the Arundel Mills area.
But Busch, in an interview Thursday, insisted that he doesn't come into the gambling debate wearing two hats. He said he approaches the gambling issue only as speaker, looking out for the interests of the state.
"I'm responsible for the Maryland House of Delegates," said Busch, whose full-time job is in the Anne Arundel County parks department.
The speaker also said Thursday that he is committed to continuing a dialogue with Gov. Martin O'Malley and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller toward reaching the consensus that eluded a work group on gambling expansion Wednesday when its three House members declined to join in the plan agreed upon by the administration and Senate appointees to the panel. The sticking point was the Prince George's casino, which the House members said they would agree to only if the state's 67 percent tax on slot machine gambling remains the same -- a condition the Senate and administration see as a deal-killer.
But any consensus that achieves a statewide goal -- such as raising revenue for education by expanding gambling -- at the expense of real or perceived local interests could carry with it political risk. It was only a decade ago, in 2002, that Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. paid the price for taking a statewide perspective on critical issues when he lost his re-election bid to a Republican challenger in his Western Maryland district.
It was that election that opened the door for Busch to become speaker and put him in the hot seat he occupies today. But if there's one thing he's demonstrated over his years as speaker, it's a willingness to accept political risk at home to lead the Democratic majority and to vote his personal convictions.