THE FIRST VOTES probably won't be cast for nearly a year and a half, but the sides are forming for what could be a landmark battle over health care in Maryland.
Forcing the issue is the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, a broad-based group seeking to make the state the first to offer universal health insurance.
Led by veteran organizer Vincent DeMarco and Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the group has won pledges of support for its basic goal from nearly 800 community groups, churches and advocacy organizations.
Now, some business groups concerned about the prospect of "socialized" medicine are organizing to oppose any such proposal in the General Assembly.
The business effort was quietly launched this month by State House lobbyist Dennis C. McCoy, a former city delegate who represents a variety of business interests, including a tobacco company.
"We have identified your organization or some of your clients as having a direct interest in opposing socialized medicine and the efforts of Vinnie DeMarco to introduce that failed proposal into Maryland," McCoy wrote in a letter sent to lobbyists and others.
McCoy presided last week over an Annapolis meeting designed to drum up opposition. Among those speaking was a policy expert from the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.
McCoy said it is imperative for companies that could be hurt by universal health coverage to organize early, to make sure DeMarco's group does not develop too much momentum.
"If all the opponents stand divided, the legislature could easily get stampeded into doing something bad," McCoy said.
In response, DeMarco said McCoy should avoid personalizing the issue. "We are looking to come up with a system of universal health care in Maryland," he said. "We'd like to have input from Mr. McCoy rather than personal attacks."
Some observers contend that DeMarco should be thrilled with opposition from McCoy, whose client list includes "black hats" such as tobacco, casino and liquor companies. "That's great - liquor, gambling and tobacco leading the charge against health care for poor people," said a lobbyist familiar with the issue.
McCoy declined to say which of his clients asked him to take the initiative in opposing the push for universal health coverage.
DeMarco - who has successfully lobbied for stricter gun-control laws and an increase in the state tobacco tax -has mapped out a long-range strategy for passing the health care proposal. Over the next year, he will continue to develop community support and discuss the issue with business groups and legislators.
His group plans to wait until the 2002 session of the General Assembly to introduce a formal legislative proposal.
Glendening hits the road on behalf of Gore campaign
He's gaining national attention as chairman of the National Governors Association, and now Gov. Parris N. Glendening is starting to play a more prominent role in Al Gore's presidential campaign.
Glendening was in Delaware on Friday, campaigning at a child-care center for the Democratic ticket. Today, he'll be in Washington debating environmental policy at the National Press Club with the Republican governor of Montana and the environmental protection director of Florida.
Tomorrow, he hits Missouri, touring a biotechnology factory and a cancer research institute on behalf of Gore and other Democrats. Glendening goes to New Hampshire on Thursday to talk about prescription drug coverage and education.
Expenses for the trips are being picked up by the Democratic National Committee, candidates in the states being visited and by Glendening's campaign account.
Many in Annapolis have speculated that Glendening is angling for a seat in Gore's Cabinet should the vice president defeat Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Glendening has played down the idea, saying he intends to serve out his term.
State comptroller annoyed again, mostly at governor
OK, it's not exactly news, but state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is annoyed. Annoyed at just about anything that Glendening does.
Schaefer is growing increasingly belligerent at the biweekly meetings of the Board of Public Works - going after the governor for the slightest of reasons. Last week, things might have hit a new low.
The comptroller repeatedly harped on spending he considered ill-advised and criticized the answers he was getting from state budget Secretary Eloise Foster. Schaefer's heavy sarcasm prompted Glendening to instruct the comptroller to "treat Eloise as the professional she is."
"You're a fine one to lecture me on professionalism," Schaefer retorted, adding that he had every right to raise questions.
"I got elected, too, with more votes than you, which I know you hate to hear," Schaefer said.