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November 22, 2006

Now Comes The Hard Part

Kevin E. Dayhoff

With the Maryland general elections over and one for the history books, the really hard part begins for Maryland Governor-elect Martin O'Malley, currently mayor of Baltimore: the business of governing.

In many ways he will have the same challenges as the last two governors, only ever-so uniquely different.

At some point, it will dawn on people that many of the relationship challenges in Annapolis were not necessarily situational to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., but systemic, if not traditional. Oh, to be sure, there will be a honeymoon period for the governor-elect, but old habits die hard.

Yes, to be certain, some of the friction was the result of Governor Ehrlich being the first Republican governor in decades.

Some of it is just the way it is with the crusty egos of a legislative body that bristles at any perceived or imaginary slight from the second floor of the statehouse - no matter who the governor is or to what party he belong.

Meanwhile, hopefully, Maryland Republicans will have learned a lesson from 1995, when former Gov. Paris N. Glendening took office. They immediately went into attack-mode and precipitated Democrats - many of whom didn't like the incoming governor any more than the Republicans - to defend the governor of their party.

If you thought that the General Assembly gave outgoing Governor Ehrlich a hard time, if the Republicans play their cards right they will witness why the infighting and back-stabbing among Democrats is the stuff of mythology.

Some of the Mayor O'Malley's ideas and initiatives are non-starters with many Democrats. The Republicans would be wise to stay clear of the food-fight and let the Democrats take care of them.

Already the transition team has raised some eyebrows on both sides of the aisle. It is well represented by O'Malley-insiders, liberal ideologues, union representatives and folks for whom Annapolis (and the rest of the state) is foreign soil.

Governor-elect O'Malley was elected essentially by Prince George's and Montgomery Counties and Baltimore City, which are pathologically oblivious to the rest of the state.

Never-the-less, the legislators from "the rest of the state" have to answer to their relatively conservative constituencies who have no love for a big-city liberal in the statehouse. Already many are calling the governor-elect "Paris O'Malley" or "Glendening-lite."

Among the criticisms of Governor Ehrlich was the suggestion that he surrounded himself with ideologues, that he was insular and inaccessible in his approach to the leadership of the General Assembly. Already the very same concern is being whispered about the governor-elect.

Then there is the issue of the newspapers. Governor Ehrlich's feud with the Baltimore Sun was the stuff of historic footnotes; but the incoming governor will have no better luck with almost all the other newspapers in the state - most of which did not endorse him.

It will become painfully clear for the governor-elect that the Baltimore Sun's sycophant coverage will not be duplicated anywhere else in the state. It has not gone unnoticed that the Sun is already practically his public relations office. telling and re-telling glowing, gooey and heart-warming stories of Norman Rockwell beginnings, childhood friends and Camelot-on-the-horizon.

Then there is the not so small matter of the upcoming personnel shake-up that occurs when a new governor and administration takes office in Annapolis - especially when there is also a party change.

In days gone by this transition was relatively unnoticed. However, the Baltimore Sun and the Maryland Democratic Party leadership politicized it ad nauseam during the Ehrlich Administration; and it may have been a dead skunk that should have been left alone.

After the announcement that the Democrats were going to conduct a witch hunt of the Ehrlich administration's hiring and firing of at-will employees, it was prophetically observed that Maryland Democrats should think past their noses about making so much fuss about staffing changes.

As the at-will employee investigation began in early July 2005, even some Democrats were whispering that if a Democrat were to prevail in the November 2006 gubernatorial election, the new governor would want to replace many folks and the residual hyper-scrutiny would be unwanted.

Now that a Democrat has been elected governor it will be interesting to see how much scrutiny the Baltimore Sun and Democratic Party leadership pay to how many folks from the Ehrlich Administration get pink slips.

Remember, the Ehrlich administration fired only 280 of 7,000 at-will workers in four years. Governor Glendening fired 309 at-will workers in the Department of Transportation in a single year.

In a recent Gazette article, Governor-elect "O'Malley said there will be no wholesale firing of political appointees from the Ehrlich administration. Governor Ehrlich drew criticism for allegedly seeking to identify and fire Democrat.'I am going to go after professionalism, and we're going to recruit the most professional people we can find,' O'Malley said."

The operative word in the proceeding was "allegedly." And, of course, the implication is that Governor Ehrlich did not hire "professionals."

Ay, caramba. Memo to the governor-elect: the election is over. You won. Enough with the political digs and implied slights on Maryland state employees already.

Maryland state employees are, for the most part, quite professional, talented and committed to doing a good job, whether it is for you or the previous administration. They have feelings and families and the rule of thumb is that the classier practitioner of politics knows when the election is over and does not politicize and malign subordinates when they cannot defend themselves.

Ears to the ground indicates that many state employees are not taking too kindly to the remarks, even the ones who are looking forward to working, once again, with a Democrat.

We certainly look forward to the thoughtful and well-measured Mayor O'Malley coming back now that the election is over. In consideration of the challenges that the State of Maryland faces, we are in for some rough years. Now is the time for bi-partisan statesmanship as the hard part begins.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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