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January 15, 2007

General Assembly Journal 2007 - Volume 1

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The cracked and faded leather binder containing the General Assembly Journal for the last four years is full of wonderful memories. The awe and anticipation of a freshman lawmaker, the frustration of partisan political battles won and lost, and the indigestion from hundreds of rubber chicken dinners fade away into the mind's recesses.

Today, we crease the binder on a brand new journal, thousands of empty pages awaiting the intrigue, insider gossip, and legislative minutiae that only you die-hards can relate to.

Borrowing from the wistful song from "Fiddler on the Roof," the 2007 Session opens to both anguish and opportunity, or sunrise and sunset. We bid farewell to a number of recurring characters from past volumes, and we welcome new players to the Annapolis stage. Resulting from the 2006 election, the sun sets on the state political career of Governor Robert Ehrlich.

He leaves a distinguished legacy of significant accomplishment, in spite of the attempts by legislative leaders and the state Democrats to portray him as a disconnected, overly partisan executive.

That same executive eliminated a dramatic and historic budget deficit, crafted an aggressive strategy to attract new federal investment (and hundreds of high-paying jobs), and passed the most significant environmental legislation in decades, designed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

To suggest that Bob Ehrlich is responsible for the poisonous partisan atmosphere in the state capitol requires either the suspension of reality or a level of comfortable ignorance denied most rational thinking people.

Sure, Bob Ehrlich used his statewide soapbox to press some partisan issues. Every single past governor has, and every new governor in the future will. After all, they are political personalities.

The best example of the naiveté buried in blaming Governor Ehrlich for partisanship is Senate President Mike Miller's comment from 2006, as the Democrats were meeting to plot their summer election strategy.

Senator Miller told a gathering of Democrats that they needed to "kill them (Republicans) and bury them so deep in the ground that it takes more than 10 years for them to dig their way out." Now that's what I call a spirit of bipartisanship!

Earlier, I mentioned that Bob Ehrlich's state political career might be over. Unlike former Governors Parris Glendening and Harry Hughes, I have a hard time picturing Bob Ehrlich traipsing around Annapolis as a lobbyist. He's a pretty proud guy, I don't see him snuggling up to the guys who worked so hard to kill and bury him - politically.

Also, I expect his dance card will be pretty full with overtures from GOP presidential candidates. He's already been called to consult (and probably work) on one significant New York-based candidate's campaign.

A setting sun also darkens the short term political aspirations of former Frederick Delegate Patrick Hogan. Patrick was a joy to work with, just a little older than my oldest daughter, but blessed with a political maturity far beyond his years.

He championed lead paint abatement, but with a recognition for the burdens that were placed on landlord's for overly aggressive enforcement. He worked his way up from the back bench to a credible and respected member of the Environmental Matters Committee. He'll be missed by both Republicans and Democrats, as Patrick made lasting friendships on both sides of the aisle.

The rising sun's rays illuminate the return to Annapolis of Sue Hecht, a two-term Democrat, who rejoins the delegation after a four year absence. Sue led the ticket for the Frederick City District, garnering more votes than seatmate Galen Clagett.

Sue has been assigned to the Economic Matters Committee, the first time in several years that the Frederick delegation has a member assigned to that body. It really matters, since this committee deals with utility regulation. Allegheny Power will have its residential rate caps lifted in two years, and Sue will serve as our collective eyes and ears on those issues.

Delegate Clagett continues his ascension into his party's leadership ranks, and that should translate to support for Frederick County from legislative leaders and the new Democrat governor.

Sen. David Brinkley will now be the leading Republican member of the Senate. His voice will be one of the most listened-to over the next four years. If they're listening to him, then they'll also be listening to our needs, too!

Del. Tony O'Donnell (R, Southern MD) begins his term as the House minority leader. The battle was tough, but Tony won handily. His test is now to mend the fences with his opponents, and to turn their animosity into energy he can work with. Tony is smart, talented, and passionate. I expect he'll turn some heads, and he will become a respected voice of principled opposition for the next four years. Watch this guy, he's going places!

Finally, the sunlight heralds the beginning of the O'Malley Administration. Governor-elect Martin O'Malley (at least until Inauguration Day on, Wednesday) moves from City Hall in Baltimore to the historic second floor State House office with the big fireplace and highly polished wood floor. The big desk he'll rest his hands on was crafted from the remains of the Wye Oak on the Eastern Shore. It gives him plenty of space to hold all of those bills, sent to him by a very friendly legislature that desperately wants to see him succeed.

In the office once used by Thomas Jefferson, Lieutenant Governor-elect Anthony Brown will make his transition from citizen legislator to administration executive. Expect Mr. Brown to play a major role in crafting policy, and to act as Governor O'Malley's eyes, ears, and voice with legislative leaders, most of whom he is very friendly with.

The sunrise metaphor seems so appropriate. Reflecting the spirit of renewal and vigor that comes with a political sea-change, Maryland residents will have to wait and see if the next 90 days brings good news or bad, a sense of fulfillment of the promises of the last six months or a return to the days of progressive spending and burdensome bureaucracy that brought about Bob Ehrlich's victory in 2002.

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