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Magna Move Foreshadows End of Maryland Preakness

While the blowhards down in Annapolis are busy examining bigger and better ways to gouge Marylanders out of their hard earned dollars, a far more serious matter has reared its ugly pock-marked head.

Um, Mr. O’Malley, I realize this whole tax and spend thing has you and your cronies deliriously giddy with thoughts of government subsidies dancing in your heads, but could you please take a good hard look at this development? A devastating storm is brewing on the horizon.

I’m referring to Magna Entertainment Corporation’s recent announcement of its decision to acquire all outstanding shares of the Maryland Jockey Club. This business essentially controls the Maryland horse racing industry. Since the inception of its “plug in a leaky bucket” deal with the DeFrancis family, former Maryland Jockey Club majority owners, Magna reserved the option for complete control of the business. Now, when it is apparently most cash-strapped, it will exercise that option, a move most certain to heap even more red paper on the Canadian conglomerate.

Is anyone else scratching their heads thinking what’s wrong with this picture?”

Marylanders have the shortest memories in history. Only two slight years ago the Annapolis pols were jumping up and down screaming, “Pass the slots bill or risk losing the Preakness!” Slots died in committee, Governor Ehrlich lost his bid for re-election, the Dems had a big group hug, then everyone went home for coffee and donuts. Now the O’Malley camp is rumbling about a special session to balance the state budget and the citizenry is grumbling over the hole in their pocketbooks.

People! Pay attention. You’ve lost focus. The timing of this Magna announcement is a very big deal. Can’t anyone else see the clouds of a perfect storm?

If Magna looks crazy on paper, I say the company is crazy like a fox. Call me crazy, but the coming and going of this announcement with very little fanfare leaves me baffled.

Maryland racetracks have been and continue to hemorrhage money hands over fists. They cannot compete with racing purses offered by neighboring states who have long seen the wisdom of bringing slots to the masses. These gambling parlors are traditionally combined with existing betting tracks, allowing neighboring states to offer fatter racing purses. With the high moral ground continuing to oppose legalized gambling in Maryland, our horse racing industry, a once glorious way of life and source of revenue, is all but certain to die. With the death of the industry, so too will come the razing of our racetracks.

How soon we Marylanders forget a nefarious move perpetrated under cover of darkness resulting in the loss of our beloved football team, the Baltimore Colts. Once Magna obtains complete control over the Maryland Jockey Club, what’s to stop it from shutting down Pimlico and doing the same thing with our beloved Preakness?

The Preakness, people! Baltimore’s own little Mardi Gras. A tried and true traditional excuse to party. Weeklong events have been built around this baby. Make no mistake, as outright owner of the corporation controlling Pimlico racetrack, Magna could and likely will move the Second Jewel in the Triple Crown to another venue.

Unless those tax and spend animals down in Annapolis start quickly putting together these puzzle pieces and legislate a way to claim Preakness as the property of Maryland, I’d say all bets are off.

Maryland High Court Moves Gay Marriage Battle to Legislature

I tend to be open-minded, but every now and then, like a petulant toddler in the middle of a meltdown, my conservative side demands my undivided attention. Never mind the abuse I’ve been hurling at it lately, what with all the warrantless wire tapping, clamps on fundamental freedoms, and other similar executive orders oozing from Pennsylvania Avenue.

After an onerous battle over gay marriage, the Maryland Court of Appeals had their say. The bow-tied wonders towed the line on banning same-sex unions, permanently reversing a lower court decision nullifying Maryland’s marriage laws on the basis of discrimination. Surprisingly, I must applaud the 240-page 4-3 split decision emanating from Annapolis. Not that I have bothered to slog through it, mind you. I just graze the headlines reaching my own cursory conclusions, then tool around here in an effort to achieve some sense of smug satisfaction.

Come on all you gay people, lighten up.

Life is too short not to be gay.

Now there’s an idea for a bumper sticker.

Writing for the court, Judge Glenn T. Harrell, Jr. refused to recognize “homosexuality as an immutable characteristic,” thereby determining Maryland’s marriage laws are not discriminatory. I suppose if science developed a definitive method to identify “gay” and “straight,” this decision could have gone the other way. Can you say “ACDC?”

Seriously, if gender ceases to be a legitimate requirement for marriage, what’s next? Species? Look at the controversy swirling around United States Senator Larry Craig, the Republican hoohah from Idaho. On second thought, let’s move on.

If I correctly follow the court’s logic, Maryland’s definition of marriage as a legally binding union between a man and a woman does not discriminate against same-sex couples because partners of the same sex do not meet the necessary criteria for this type of union. That is not to say same-sex couples cannot unify themselves in some other legally binding manner. It just means Maryland courts will not sanction marriage, as that term is legally defined, as a way to do it.

Like I said, I applaud the court, but its opinion leaves me slightly uneasy. What happens when one partner is transgendered? Are couples the same sex if they share internal sexual characteristics but have different exterior equipment? And what about hermaphrodites? Better yet, is any state government going to require sworn affidavits attesting to the manner in which a couple seeking to marry arrived at their differently gendered status? No, resting a decision on gender isn’t going to cut it in this day and age. Eventually, that too will go by the wayside and traditionalists will be plenty peeved.

I could ramble on, but I’d rather get to the point. No decent person wants to deprive gay people of rights afforded heterosexual couples through the institution of marriage. They just haven’t figured out a way to do it without enflaming the other side.

It’s a shame really, that the court missed this window of opportunity. Yes, same-sex couples can and will take this fight back to the General Assembly. But fighting for an amendment to the state constitution seems like overkill. Maryland’s laws can be changed to provide same-sex couples with all the legal protections of marriage simply by requiring the creation of a specific type of contract, like a will or a trust. The state could even set up a special oversight office, much like the Registrar of Wills or the Department of Motor Vehicles to regulate the legitimacy of such contracts and to arbitrate disputes. Whoever wants to have a special ceremony celebrating their contract can do so. No harm in that.

Like me, most people see marriage as a scared union. When people are asked to change their beliefs about the nature of that institution, they can’t or won’t give in. So why not settle for a win-win solution? If the legislature is willing to expand existing laws providing benefits to married couples, I believe same-sex couples can and will achieve marriage equivalency. Call it civil union. Call it partnering. Call it whatever sounds good, something uniquely identifiable and dignified.

Just don’t call it marriage. My conservative side finally ran out of steam.

Maryland Needs a Little Turkey in the Straw Poll

A recent GOP treasury report indicates Maryland’s Republican Party is clinging to life support, its coffers dwindling toward bankruptcy. Apparently, their annual Red White and Blue Dinner didn’t produce necessary funding.

Don’t tell me the minority party pins its financial stability on one annual fundraiser?! No wonder Maryland is dominated by Democrats.

Time for those folks down on Church Circle to study their well endowed brethren in the Hawkeye State. Even with a pitiful turnout of 14,302 (compared to 23,685 in 1999, not to mention the Iowa State Fair same day attendance of 98,207), pundits anticipate last Saturday’s straw poll raising about a million smackers for GOP breadbaskets. Not bad for a one day haul on the picturesque grounds of Iowa State. Since 1978, this “political state fair for Republicans” has become the first litmus test measuring campaign strength, organizational abilities, and momentum building of GOP candidates. What more could a state party desire?

Let’s start with top-tiered candidates paying the per person $35.00 admission fee. Not exactly vote buying — participants are free to vote for the candidate of their choice — but a pretty hefty price to ensure supporter turnout. That alone could put Maryland Republicans in the black.

Reminds me of these gobs of grease. Freebies littered the straw poll like wads of paper surrounding public waste baskets. Like a big fat butter sculpture in a spraying tent set in front of the University’s Hilton Coliseum, wrapped in free yellow t-shirts, handing out free barbeque from local smoke pits, under a colossal-sized tent with its own performance stage, within eyesight of a free climbing wall and inflatable children’s slide, with a free bus ride to and from the event … um…. wait a minute. That was Mitt Romney’s campaign. Romney finished first with about 31.6% of all votes cast. Quelle surprise.

Hilton Coliseum is home to each candidate’s mock nominating convention. They rally inside, attempting to whip supporters into a political frenzy. Ritzy tent locations like the ones erected closest to the Coliseum run $25,000.00 per, while less desirable spots cost as much as $15,000.00. Now that’s a lot of butter!

Personally, I think former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, and Arizona Senator John McCain were wise to skip the event. As the only candidates whose family values wouldn’t pass muster with social and religious conservatives, their financial resources could be better spent. Predictably, Thompson’s absence didn’t stop FredHeads from setting up shop. Despite his undeclared status, Thompson garnered 29 more votes than participating candidate Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Earth to Hunter. When you’re beaten by a guy who isn’t even sure he’s going to run, it’s time to throw in the towel. Give it up while you can still use the money to campaign for re-election. Ditto, businessman John Cox. Three other candidates who didn’t pay for a tent, a snow cone machine, or admission tickets finished ahead of you. Time to purchase that one-way ticket back to Chicago. At least former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson got the message, admitted defeat, and moved on. Cheer up, Tommy. Senior law partners still have appeal and look great in briefs.

For what it’s worth, here’s how Iowa’s non-binding straw poll separated the men from the boys:

1. Mitt Romney – 4,516 votes
2. Mike Huckabee – 2,587 votes
3. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback – 2,192 votes
4. Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo – 1,961 votes
5. Texas Congressman Ron Paul – 1,305 votes
6. Tommy Thompson – 1,039 votes
7. Fred Thompson – 203 votes
8. Rudy Giuliani – 183 votes
9. Duncan Hunter – 174 votes
10. John McCain – 101 votes
11. John Cox – 41 votes

In keeping with his Baptist minister roots, Huckabee likened his second place finish to a parable from the New Testament. More likely, the Elvis impersonator rallied Huckabee’s support. Rock star appeal is the theme of Election 2008. I’ll bet Iowans were also smitten by Huckabee playing bass guitar. As for Tancredo and Paul, those are the real stories. Too bad the national news media didn’t give either candidate much attention.

Traditional pundits say the straw poll didn’t amount to a hill of beans. Less than 2.5% of active Republicans participated. That’s a huge gap from the number anticipated at Iowa’s winter caucuses. According to Dennis Goldford, political science professor at Drake University, “68% of those who voted wanted someone other than Romney, even if they didn’t participate in the event.” Stressing the lack of participation by Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and McCain while factoring Romney’s campaign spending along with the amount of family stumping, Romney’s win was a Pyrrhic victory. But pundits fail to acknowledge the event’s fundraising caliber. It’s a clear winner for Republicans. A piece of fat to chew on and that’s no beef.

Getting back to Maryland, I’d hate to see the Republican Party tank before 2011. Now that the District of Columbia has scheduled a January primary, there’s nothing stopping Maryland Republicans from planning a summer straw poll of their own. University of Maryland’s Comcast Center would be the perfect venue. With its “Fear the Turtle” centerpiece positioned outside, Republicans could easily imbue a Maryland straw poll with an electric competitive vibe.

I hope someone is listening. Especially since the Party’s annual Red White and Blue Dinner left their cupboards practically bare.