General Assembly Journal - Part 6
Tuesday January 28, 2003 - Governor Bob Ehrlich’s Office, State House
The Republican members of the Health and Government Operations Committee were invited to meet with Governor (Robert) Ehrlich in his office. We were ushered into his conference room by a security guard. Former Delegate Ken Masters, the Governor’s Legislative Director, met us inside and we sat down to await the governor.
Former Delegate Joe Getty, who has been hired as a policy and strategy advisor to the governor, joined us. I bring up Joe because he is one of the brightest people I have met in this city (Annapolis). Joe understands the subtleties of the legislative process, and he is really attuned to the political process. Joe will be an invaluable strategic advisor, and the governor will be well served to heed his counsel.
The setting in the conference room was informal, with the veteran committee members like Don Elliot (R., Frederick/Carroll) joking with both Mr. Getty and Mr. Masters. My back was to the door connecting the conference room to the Governor’s Office, so I didn’t realize he was standing there until he started chuckling at a joke told by a committee member.
He walked in and shook hands with everyone. Someone asked if he was recovering from the "polar bear" swim in the Chesapeake. He sounded a bit hoarse, and said the best part about the swim is that it brought his flu temperature down quickly. After some friendly Democrat ribbing (which is sooooo easy to do in a room full of Republicans), the governor gave us a preview of his State of the State speech.
After hearing what matters to him, I find myself even happier that I worked hard to get him elected. He and I are very similar in our view of the role of state government. We both believe strongly that Marylanders who truly need help should be able to count on the state to help them. People who suffer from mental illness, who struggle with disabilities, and our senior citizens should know that help will be there when they need it.
Governor Ehrlich will outline a set of priorities that reflect these values. He explained his view on slot machines, and he told members that he respected honest policy differences and moral objections. He made the point that he had merely weeks to re-work the FY ‘04 budget submitted by the outgoing governor (Parris Glendening).
He talked about how we needed to recognize that eight years of reckless spending had to be corrected, and that the pain had to be shared across the board. My lone Democratic colleague in the Frederick County Delegation has already started to use his party’s rhetoric to attack Governor Ehrlich’s budget.
Some down here suggest broad-based revenue enhancements (that means they want to increase your taxes) to provide the money necessary to fund popular programs. His speech will highlight the personal stories of five Marylanders to illustrate his policy priorities.
President Ronald Reagan started that concept many years ago when he had Lenny Skutnick, a guy who stopped along the George Washington Parkway to pull Air Florida survivors from the cold Potomac River at the 14th Street Bridge. I find it to be an important device to help personalize a policy initiative.
Governor Ehrlich is an eloquent, passionate advocate for his ideas. I’m sure the speech will raise the bar for future governors. When our meeting was over, the governor let some of us in to see his personal office. I had several veteran lawmakers tell me that they had NEVER been in the Governor’s private office. It is as wonderful and awe-inspiring a place as you would expect.
I cannot compare it to former Governor Glendening’s digs (since his invitation must have been lost in the mail), but Governor Ehrlich has personalized his office with public service and personal mementos. He has his House of Delegate license plates hanging on his wall, several plaques from his service in the General Assembly, and a whole wall of plaques from his congressional experience.
One particular award caught my eye. On the wall of his conference room is a fireman’s ax from the Congressional Fire Caucus. My uncle, Rep. Curt Weldon (R., PA) is the founder of that body. Governor Ehrlich was recognized by the Fire Caucus as their Legislator of the Year for 1998. My uncle has only the nicest things to say about our new governor. Curt talked about Governor Ehrlich’s ability to work both sides of the aisle in Congress, a skill he will need to use daily in his new gig.
Wednesday, January 29, 2003 - The State of the State Speech House of Delegates Chamber
Our first sense that this wasn’t a normal day came when we walked into the Chamber and saw all of the TV cameras lining the walls and the aisles filled with temporary seats for the senators. After we established a quorum, the senators came over. They did their quorum call (still fun to hear Senator Brinkley’s name called), and then Lt. Governor Michael Steele, was introduced.
As a harbinger of things to come, the Republicans dispensed with decorum and cheered, whistled, and otherwise celebrated his arrival. As a side note for you political junkies, when Lt. Governor Steele passed by Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings (D., Baltimore), the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Delegate Rawlings stuck out his hand and got a "high five" from the lieutenant governor. Finally, the House Sergeant at Arms opened the double doors, strode in about 20 steps, and announced: "Mr. Speaker, the Governor of the State of Maryland".
I counted about four minutes of applause before the House and Senate settled down. The speech ran a little more than 50 minutes, but you had to account for the applause interruptions (many) and the extemporaneous comments from a governor who is pretty quick on his feet.
I thought the speech was outstanding! The governor has placed a very high priority on some very non-traditional issues, at least for a Republican. He strongly supports mental health support programs for the developmentally disabled, drug addiction treatment, and tougher gun violence sentencing.
I thought his speech was great, but his political strategy is even smarter. He has proposed a balanced budget addressing a $1.8 billion dollar structural deficit, funding some major new initiatives that are important to him, and increased funding for education, all without raising taxes. In so doing, he challenges the General Assembly to either approve his budget, including revenue from video lottery terminals (slot machines), or decide which programs to cut to balance the budget. It will be fun to watch the Democrats wrestle with trying to sell a tax increase (or several tax increases) or cutting things like education, environmental programs, or urban revitalization.
In case you’re wondering, my meeting with the governor yesterday guaranteed that I knew when to applaud, but in retrospect, I didn’t need the coaching. I would have been clapping anyway!