Democrats might seek earlier primary


WITH COSTLY, contested Democratic primaries for governor and U.S. Senate looming next year, party leaders are considering a change in the date of the primary election to give nominees more time to raise money.

State Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said most of the party's top elected officials, including its members of Congress and county executives, support the proposal to move the 2006 primary from September to June.

"It is one option we are looking at," Lierman said.

"There is a lot of support among the state advisory council for doing this," he added, referring to a group made up of the two U.S. senators, six members of Congress, county executives, legislative presiding officers, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and the comptroller and attorney general, who have been meeting regularly to plan election strategy.

Such a change would need approval of the General Assembly, which adjourns for the year Monday. No legislation to make such a move has been introduced; it would have to come as an amendment to another elections bill.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, however, has not embraced the concept. Busch said yesterday he was "kind of surprised" that the issue has surfaced so late in the session. He said he was not sure whether there were 85 votes in the House to support such a change - the number needed because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. likely would veto the measure, he said.

"The initiative obviously centers around the gubernatorial race," Busch said.

O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan are expected to battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year.

If the election calendar stays as scheduled, a winner would emerge from the Sept. 12 primary with just eight weeks to raise money and implement a statewide strategy against Ehrlich, the Republican incumbent who is expected to seek re-election. If he does, Ehrlich likely would have no serious primary opposition and could have $20 million in campaign funds on hand.

The same problem confronts the winner of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. The Republican nominee likely will have copious funds from the national party in the quest to fill a seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes, who has announced he will not seek re-election.

The general election is Nov. 7.

Republicans say the current schedule has worked fine for decades, and they see no reason to change it now.

"It's stupid," said John M. Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. "For all these left-leaning liberal bastards who criticize Ehrlich for bringing Capitol Hill-style politics to Annapolis, all these same bozos are now listening to Capitol Hill.

"Why now all of a sudden should it be changed?" Kane said. "Because they don't control the monopoly? Grow up. Move along. Next subject."

Lierman, the Democratic chief, said the change would benefit both parties.

Panel begins approving Ehrlich nominations

The logjam of gubernatorial appointments broke last night when the Senate Executive Nominations Committee unanimously approved more than 180 of Ehrlich's picks for various boards and commissions, ending a stalemate over who would run the state's elections apparatus.

The vote came after Friday's resignation by former Del. Frank D. Boston Jr., a Democrat Ehrlich named to the state Elections Board but who Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller opposed.

Miller, who wants Democrats to have the ability to name their two representatives on the Board of Elections, said he doesn't have a deal with the governor on who will be appointed in Boston's place or to the other vacant Democratic slot. But he hinted that he got his way regardless.

Ehrlich can either take the two names Democrats already have forwarded to him or accept the ramifications of a bill working its way through the legislature that would force the governor to accept nominees from the minority party's state central committee, Miller said. The bill passed the House with a veto-proof majority and will do the same in the Senate, he said.

"If our two names don't come down - the names we requested - the central committee will send up two names," Miller said. "I'm fine with that."

Miller said the Democrats want Bobbie Mack, a Prince George's County woman who served briefly on the Elections Board before Ehrlich replaced her last summer, and W. Ray Huff, a former delegate from Anne Arundel County.

The deal-that-is-not-a-deal freed up scores of appointees who have been on hold in the executive nominations committee for the last few weeks.

They include such high-profile names as top Ehrlich fund-raiser Dick Hug and former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly, both of whom were up for the University of Maryland Board of Regents; Secretary of State R. Karl Aumann, nominated for the Workers' Compensation Commission; State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh; and Karen A. Smith, Ehrlich's inter-governmental affairs liaison, who was nominated for a seat on the Public Service Commission.

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