The game legislators love to hate

Legislators arrive in Annapolis today fully engaged in a favorite political game: having it both ways.

We do not like the keno lottery game or gambling of any kind, many of them say, but we like cutting social service programs even less.


Gov. William Donald Schaefer continues to challenge keno-busters to say how they would balance the budget in keno's absence.

Without it, the state will be obliged to find at least $50 million more in budget cuts this year and $100 million next year -- or raise taxes. With keno in place, the budget problems are largely solved.


Not much of a dilemma, actually.

Still, Maryland finds itself in the extraordinarily public position of depending on gamblers, many of them poor, to pay for the care of elderly nursing home patients, many of them poor. Support keno, the governor says, or evict the old folks.

The dilemma is worse, because outlawing keno might not turn down the volume of criticism. If state-run keno is wrong, how can the lottery, itself, be justified?

What is more likely than outlawing keno is further authority for it and for gambling in general. That could come, oddly enough, from establishment of a gambling commission, proposed recently by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. Once a regulatory body is in place, the regulated activity tends to achieve governmental immortality.

Some members of the Assembly, however, find themselves rethinking fundamental decisions about gambling and revenue raising in Maryland.

Del. Leon G. Billings, whose concerns helped to convince the U.S. attorney to investigate the keno contract, says his opposition to state-sponsored gambling changed his opposition to sales taxes on food and clothing. "If a person paid sales tax on a suit, at least when he got home he had a suit," Mr. Billings says. "But if he pays his taxes through the lottery or keno, most of the time all he has when he gets home is a piece of paper."

On the road with GOP dream team

Connie Morella is on her way.


The 8th District congresswom an will be guest speaker at the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee's Lincoln Day Dinner on Feb. 21 at Martin's West. It's the annual county GOP fund-raiser.

Mrs. Morella is famous in the GOP for confining her politics to Montgomery County, but she will need broader alliances if she is to attempt a statewide race. Her prominent presence in Baltimore County has GOP insiders nodding knowledgeably. She's running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes, they whisper.

But Mrs. Morella probably has a lifetime lock on her House seat. A decision to run for the Senate will not be an easy one.

Many in both parties think Mr. Sarbanes is vulnerable, but few fully appreciate his ability as a candidate when he exhibits the drive and passion that some critics find lacking at times.

Co-chairing the Morella event are Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden and 2nd District Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who was recently named to the important House Appropriations Committee.

And what do the co-chairmen have in mind politically? Will either of them actually be a candidate for governor, as some suggest? Or do they just like the mentioning game? The answers, respectively, for both: probably not, and yes.


Mrs. Bentley is a veteran of the mentioning wars. Mr. Hayden recently attended an entire GOP convention all the way down in Solomons. That dramatic step was widely noticed since his attendance at party events has not been automatic. Montgomery County Del. Jennie M. Forehand wants credit for pitching, even before ground was broken, to make baseball viewing at Camden Yards smoke-free. She started lobbying in the House Appropriations Committee as park supporters came looking for construction money.

Recent statistics on the toll of smoking make her even more certain she was right:

"Maryland has been named No. 1 in cancer deaths, and the Environmental Protection Agency has conceded that secondhand smoke is as harmful as asbestos."