Upbeat Ehrlich Stresses Cooperation in Speech
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 27, 2006; B01
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. used the final State of the State
address of his term to declare himself a "change agent," and in the
process, he gave Democrats a preview yesterday of how he'll forge his
bid for reelection.
"Most pundits regard an election year session as an opportunity for the
two parties to frame issues and garner political advantage in advance
of the approaching election," the Republican governor told the General
Assembly. "The people we represent see things differently. They want
results. They want responsiveness."
The address presented a repackaged Bob Ehrlich -- a Republican governor
eager to find common ground with Democrats in the legislature, craving
an end to "Capitol Hill-style" politics in Annapolis and willing to
spend on an array of new programs. Among those are initiatives
previously championed by Democrats, including strict limits on
university tuition increases, a reduction in power plant pollution and
funding of stem cell research.
He credited the House speaker and Senate president with helping pass a
Chesapeake Bay restoration plan, saying that without the Democratic
leaders "that bill does not get done."
And he made not one mention by name of the topic that dominated the
first three years of his tenure: slot machine gambling.
As he has done repeatedly in recent weeks, the governor pitched the
idea that Maryland is in an economic revival. As if channeling his
father, who sold used cars on commission, he called conditions in the
state "hot, red hot." He pointed to lows in unemployment and welfare
caseloads, the creation of nearly 100,000 jobs and a soaring real
Ehrlich spoke before a packed joint session of the General Assembly's
188 members, two former governors and members of his Cabinet. His
parents were in the front row of the balcony. Also in the gallery were
the two Democrats vying to challenge Ehrlich in November: Montgomery
County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.
Duncan called the governor's account of his record on education, the
environment and civility "an election year makeover."
When the governor revisited a topic that brought him considerable
attention during last year's State of the State address -- the bitter
and partisan political tone in Annapolis -- O'Malley rose from his seat
and applauded vigorously.
Afterward, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's) called the governor
"a hypocrite," saying the Capitol Hill-style politics in Annapolis can
be traced directly to Ehrlich's arrival.
Other Democrats were more subdued about the speech. House Speaker
Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he thought it was "very
positive." But he questioned whether Ehrlich could legitimately claim
credit for turning a $4 billion deficit into a $2 billion surplus.
Nonpartisan state budget analysts say Ehrlich took office facing annual
projected shortfalls of about $1 billion, and the state finished last
year with a surplus of about $1.2 billion.
"He's reaping the benefit of trends in the national economy," Busch
Republican lawmakers said they found it impressive to hear the
governor's accomplishments wrapped together in a 50-minute address.
House Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (Calvert) said it was clear
that "the governor got a lot of stuff done in a very hostile
Ehrlich seemed to put special emphasis on accomplishments intended to
benefit the state's large, and mostly Democratic, African American
community. He specifically mentioned aid to historically black colleges
and universities, and he described the creation of a new school
curriculum centered on the exhibits of a recently opened African
American history museum in Baltimore.
"This is American history," he said.
Del. Curtis S. Anderson (D-Baltimore) said he noticed the attention to
African American causes in the governor's speech and appreciated them.
But he wasn't sure it reflected the Ehrlich administration's record. "I
can only say, welcome aboard," Anderson said. "It's about time."
One aspect of the speech generated alarm among supporters of embryonic
stem cell research. Ehrlich has proposed spending $20 million next year
on stem cell research, but he has said he would leave it to a
state-founded technology corporation to determine whether the money
should be spend on embryonic cell work -- which some Republicans oppose
on moral grounds -- or less controversial work on adult stem cells.
In his address, Ehrlich said dollars would be steered to "promising
projects with the greatest opportunity for therapeutic breakthroughs."
Work is further along on adult than embryonic stem cells, though many
scientists believe embryonic cells hold greater promise. House Majority
Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) said he believes that Ehrlich was
using "code" for saying he is going to support only adult stem cell
"That's why we need legally binding language as to how this would be
spent," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg (D-Baltimore), who is sponsoring
the stem cell bill. "That's called legislation."
An Ehrlich aide said that "there were no code words," adding that the
governor remains open to embryonic research if that is what scientists
Ehrlich did not stick closely to his prepared remarks, but there was
nothing like the impromptu lecture on respect that made headlines when
he addressed the legislature last year. At moments, as he waded deeply
into his legislative agenda, his 6-year-old son, Drew, put his head
down in his mother's lap.
Midway through, though, he shook up the speech with the unorthodox
decision to relinquish the microphone to an official from Louisiana who
was on the receiving end of Maryland's medical and financial assistance
after Hurricane Katrina.
In a soft bayou drawl, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard
described how "out of heaven, via Maryland, came this plane filled
with" volunteers. "You came to the forefront at a time that we
desperately needed it."
Ehrlich returned to the podium six minutes later to declare: "Do you
know what the state of the state of Maryland is? It's compassion."
Staff writers Ann E. Marimow and John Wagner contributed to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company