Friday, May 23, 2008

Reporter’s Notebook: McMillan signs on as tax’s alpha watchdog

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Herb McMillan, a tax hawk in his one term as a member of the House of Delegates, is the new president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association.

McMillan succeeds Dee Hodges as president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group, which pushed a ‘‘Taxpayer Protection Pledge” in the face of tax hikes passed in recent months by the General Assembly.

The pledge, to ‘‘oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes” has been signed by 24 delegates and 12 senators, including 31 Republicans and five Democrats: George Della, Roy Dyson and Norm Stone and delegates Ted Sophocleus and Johnny Wood.

McMillan, a Republican from Annapolis, represented District 30 in the House from 2003 to 2007 and founded the Taxpayers Protection Caucus. In 2006, he challenged incumbent Sen. John Astle, losing by 52.9 percent to 47 percent.

Hodges, a retired banker from Baltimore County who was MTA president since 2001, is now chairwoman, the group announced Tuesday.

McMillan, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and American Airlines pilot, served on the Annapolis City Council and was a 2001 candidate for mayor before his election to the House.

— Sean R. Sedam

Senator and fighter

State officials reacted to Tuesday’s news of Ted Kennedy’s malignant brain tumor, with friends and colleagues past and present offering encouragement to the senior senator from Massachusetts.

Gov. Martin O’Malley offered ‘‘the thoughts and prayers of all Marylanders.”

‘‘Our hope is that a man whose life has been defined as a champion for all Americans will find comfort in the enduring love of his wife and children and the endless prayers of those who’ve been touched by his nearly fifty years in public service,” O’Malley said in a statement.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski called Kennedy’s diagnosis ‘‘wrenching ... like a punch in the heart.”

‘‘Senator Kennedy is one of my oldest friends in Congress,” Mikulski said in a statement. ‘‘He’s always been there when I needed him — I’m there for him now. No one knows how to fight harder and with more determination than Ted Kennedy. I know he will fight and beat this diagnosis. He can count on me to be at ringside with support, prayers and that smile of encouragement he always gives everyone else.”

Maryland Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who was Kennedy’s special counsel from 1995 to 1998, called it ‘‘very sad news.”

‘‘Sen. Kennedy has been a fighter all his life,” Perez said, echoing Mikulski. ‘‘He’s someone who has dealt with adversity in remarkable ways. This is another challenge in a lifetime of challenges he’s been able to overcome. He has so much gas in the tank, I am optimistic that he will confront this challenge as he confronts other challenges: With a sense of purpose and a sense of humor.”

That sense of humor was on display at annual reunions of Kennedy staffers and Christmas parties where the senator dressed up as Austin Powers and Disney characters, said Perez, whose association with the Kennedy clan goes back to his days playing rugby with John F. Kennedy Jr. at Brown University.

‘‘[Sen. Kennedy]’s a civil rights lawyer,” Perez said. ‘‘The Civil Rights movement is about never giving up.”

— Sean R. Sedam

Count ’em

Reporters awaited O’Malley’s arrival for a news conference on Tuesday in a conference room in the Jeffrey Building, just down Francis Street from the State House.

Looking around, reporters noticed walls covered with a map of Maryland and the logos of state Cabinet departments and realized they were in the ‘‘war room” for StateStat, O’Malley’s battle against state government inefficiencies.

‘‘MediaStat. Didn’t you know that’s what you were here for?” O’Malley spokeswoman Christine Hansen joked.

How to subject the press to the same scrutiny and number-crunching to which state agencies are beholden?

‘‘Four people are reading your story,” deadpanned Washington Post scribe John Wagner.

— Sean R. Sedam

Flight duck

The U.S. Naval Academy’s Commissioning Week festivities this week did not go unnoticed by those in state government.

F⁄A-18 Hornets from the Navy’s Blue Angels roared over Annapolis, preparing for an aerial demonstration as O’Malley walked into Tuesday’s news conference in the Jeffrey Building, where the governor’s office has been moved during renovations to the State House.

The news conference had a green energy theme, with officials from Irish company Wavebob Ltd. announcing that they were establishing their first U.S. office in Annapolis. The company makes buoys that harness energy from ocean waves.

‘‘Thank you for coming today as we listen to the Blue Angels expand our nation’s carbon footprint,” O’Malley said to reporters.

On Wednesday, O’Malley revised the order of the Board of Public Works agenda in an attempt to speed up the proceedings and perhaps avoid more jet noise. Comptroller Peter Franchot warned meeting attendees that the Blue Angels demonstration would begin around noon — actually it was at 2 p.m. on Wednesday after practice flights during Tuesday’s lunch hour.

‘‘So don’t hit the ground,” Franchot said.

— Sean R. Sedam

Marty the science guy

A scientist with Wavebob Ltd. gave a brief description of how the company’s product works following Tuesday’s announcement.

The Wavebob device combines two buoys built into each other and a hydraulic system with something called an ‘‘oscillating point absorber” to convert energy from ocean waves into low-cost electricity, Wavebob research and development head Jochen Weber explained.

When Weber concluded, O’Malley opened the floor to questions from reporters, one of whom jokingly asked the governor to repeat Weber’s explanation.

‘‘I don’t know. Sounds like one of these things,” O’Malley said while rubbing his belly and patting his head.

— Sean R. Sedam

From State House to Big House

O’Malley welcomed visitors to Annapolis for Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting by commenting on the changes they might have noticed to the state government complex since the end of the General Assembly session. Days after Sine Die, contractors began renovations that will continue through year’s end.

O’Malley joked about ‘‘the fencing and barbed wire” around the State House. There is fencing around the building — but no barbed wire.

‘‘We are not trying to capture legislators for another special session,” he assured visitors.

— Sean R. Sedam

I get by with help from my foes

A woman testifying before the Board of Public Works on Wednesday asked state officials to consider whether to allow a bridge over Charles County’s Weir Creek as part of a proposed 897-acre waterfront development at Swan Point.

Searching for a visual aid, the woman, who lives on the creek, looked for a map that developers had brought to make their case.

‘‘Oh, they took their map,” she said.

‘‘You don’t mind if we use your map?” O’Malley asked the developers, as a woman representing the developers came forward with it.

‘‘She’ll even hold it for you,” O’Malley said. ‘‘We’re One Maryland.”

— Sean R. Sedam

Splitting the take on slots

Slots supporters pushed T-shirts and literature on the Pimlico infield before the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore on Saturday. But earlier in the week the debate over whether to bring 15,000 slot machines to the state was waged in Western Maryland.

Garrett County businesses want ’em. Garrett County schools aren’t sure.

The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce on Thursday voted to support the referendum, siding with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

‘‘We are looking at a $700 million hole in the budget if the referendum fails, and we know that means tax increase or cuts in services,” Chamber President and CEO Charlie Ross said in a statement. ‘‘We are putting our support behind the referendum to keep taxes from being raised.”

The Garrett County Commissioners, Maryland Association of Counties and the AFL-CIO have also joined the campaign in support of slots.

Earlier in the week, the Garrett County Board of Education voted not to take a stance on the issue. Board member Donald Forrester reportedly argued that there was no guarantee that slots revenues would go toward schools.

Other education advocates have split on the issue. Earlier this year, the Maryland State Teachers Association came out in favor of slots.

On May 7, the Montgomery County Education Association broke with MSTA when its Representative Assembly voted to remain neutral. The vote means MCEA resources cannot be used in support or opposition of the referendum.

— Sean R. Sedam

Take me out

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer. In Bowie, the boys of summer are taking the opportunity to crank their promotional machine into high gear.

On Saturday, the Bowie Baysox, the Baltimore Orioles’ AA affiliate, will attempt to set the Guinness World Record for simultaneous kazoo playing.

The hope is to get 3,000 fans to simultaneously play ‘‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in honor of the 100th anniversary of baseball’s ‘‘national anthem.”

The Baysox will host a second attempt at ... history? ... as three-time world ‘‘pizza acrobat” champion Joe Carlucci attempts to break the world record for highest pizza toss.

Past promotions by the Baysox have included world record attempts at simultaneous yo-yoing, tooth brushing and whoopee cushion sitting.

Not in the competitive spirit?

On Sunday, the Baysox present Pat Sajak Day.

The ‘‘Wheel of Fortune” host will sign autographs and pose for photos with fans, the first 1,250 of whom will receive a limited-edition Pat Sajak bobblehead.

Sajak will also broadcast part of the game live on 1430 WNAV, which is run by his Sajak Broadcasting Corp.

And, oh yeah, there’s baseball too. The Baysox play the Eastern League-rival New Hampshire Fisher Cats at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday and 2:05 p.m. on Sunday.

— Sean R. Sedam

2006 Baker ads back on YouTube

Political insiders nostalgic for the 2006 Prince George’s county executive race — when Jack Johnson defeated Rushern Baker for the second time — can relive some of the nastier parts of the primary election on the Internet.

On April 28, a user by the name ‘‘RusherBaker” signed up on YouTube and posted TV commercials Baker ran in his bid for the county’s top seat. The poster’s profile page includes the candidate’s biography and a link to his campaign Web site.

The videos range from a clip titled ‘‘Imagine,” where the former delegate asks viewers to picture a Prince George’s County that is ‘‘first in education, last in crime,” to more confrontational spots like ‘‘chicken,” where an unflattering Johnson picture is paired with footage of a yellow chick prancing around while a voiceover asks why the executive won’t debate Baker.

Messages to the Internet user who created the Baker-centric clips were not returned. Reached last week, Baker told The Gazette that he plans to run again for county executive in 2010 but said his sudden presence on the site was news to him.

‘‘I can’t even get on YouTube,” he said. ‘‘But they’re pretty good ads, aren’t they? I’ll have to wait for my son to get back from college to show me.”

— Daniel Valentine

Safe harbor for Jack?

County Executive Jack B. Johnson’s undying support of the National Harbor development in Oxon Hill has sparked rumors that he has plans to get a job connected with the $4 billion waterfront project after his term ends in 2010.

‘‘It’s not even worth me answering that,” Johnson said when asked about working at National Harbor.

Johnson denied the rumor and said his next job may instead come from his work with Africa.

‘‘I’ve never had to worry about employment,” he said. ‘‘My problem will be limiting what I want to do.”

— Daniel Valentine

A tank full of money

Consensus has not always been easy to find among the members of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

But hard times, plus what look like some extra efforts to get along despite county factionalism, have drawn some members together to consider a way they might save the utility money.

At the suggestion of Vice Chairwoman Joyce Starks, Chairwoman Adrienne Mandel brought up at the board’s Wednesday meeting the possibility of selling sponsorships to communities or organizations that would like to put their names or logos on the utilties’ water tanks in exchange for shouldering repainting costs.

Few details were discussed and it remains to be seen what advertising deals might be offered to defray the costs, which, according to recent contracts, exceed $1 million.

If all else fails, they could install slot machines on water meters.

Just kidding.

— Margie Hyslop