ANNAPOLIS – With Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s legislative agenda in ruins, the move may be on to pin the blame on his top lobbyist: Ken Masters.
A House of Delegates committee spiked the governor’s proposal to legalize slot machines Wednesday and the rest of the governor’s package either died or was re-crafted at the hands of a Democratic General Assembly.
Now lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly are questioning Masters’ ability to peddle the governor’s agenda.
“There’s been some concern raised about how effective (Masters) is,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles.
State House speculation has centered on whether Masters will continue with the Ehrlich administration. Some legislators have approached Ehrlich with their concerns about his performance.
“I don’t think it’s fair, but he’ll be held out as the scapegoat,” said House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery. “I think he’ll take the fall.”
Ehrlich laughed off questions about Masters’ employment status.
Barve “couldn’t have been serious when he said that,” Ehrlich said. “That’s goofy.”
Masters could not be reached for comment.
As the governor’s chief lobbyist, Masters was charged with pushing Ehrlich’s legislative agenda. Of the package: proposals to enact charter schools and toughen gun laws died in committee, while the juvenile justice system overhaul was stripped of funding.
The proposal to legalize slot machines, however, was the governor’s top priority this session, but it, too, is on the shoals.
The proposal was rewritten by the administration and overhauled by a Senate subcommittee before the House Ways and Means Committee voted it down Wednesday.
Now eyes are on the man appointed to make Ehrlich’s pitch to the Legislature.
Lawmakers said much of his inability to effectively lobby may stem from his time in the House of Delegates.
“He was very conservative and a lot of Democrats didn’t really feel they had anything in common with him,” Barve said.
Masters, a conservative Baltimore County Democrat, was vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where he often butted heads with other delegates until he lost re-election in 1994, Barve said.
Democratic lobbyist Bill Pitcher sympathized with Masters.
“Those of us who do this for a living realize what he has to deal with,” Pitcher said. “There’s a tendency to look for scapegoats.”
One of the toughest jobs is building relationships, especially with a flood of freshman legislators this session, he said. “People do have to realize he was out of the Legislature for eight years.”
Masters may have broken a key relationship earlier this week, when he criticized Senate Education, Health and Environment Chairwoman Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County.
The Sun of Baltimore reported that Masters told an aide to House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, that the Health and Government Operations Chairman is “way more sensible than his Senate counterpart.”
“I confronted him and he said he didn’t say it,” Hollinger said. “Two reporters say he did.”
Masters said he never made the reported comment, but refused to elaborate.
“I think a lot of senators don’t know” Masters, said Delegate Joseph “Sonny” Minnick, D-Baltimore County.
Barve said a lobbyist should not be the determinant of a bill’s success.
“It’s the policies themselves, the smartest lobbyist in Annapolis couldn’t have solved that first or second go round at slots,” he said. “This thing went down because of bad decisions at the top.” – 30 – CNS-4-2-03