Winds of change blow outside mansion

THE POLITICAL GAME

Transition: The Democratic Party is cautiously assessing strategies for working with the state's first GOP governor in 36 years.

January 07, 2003|By Jeff Barker and David Nitkin | Jeff Barker and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

HOW WILL the Maryland Democratic Party handle being on the outside of the governor's mansion for the first time in 36 years?

It seems the party is still determining how it will comport itself.

Isiah Leggett, the state's new Democratic chairman, says the party will try to criticize Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. without being shrill.

"Spirited but civil disagreement" is the way Leggett put it Friday after the party's new officers had gathered for their first meeting in Annapolis.

Leggett says his office's role will evolve as circumstances warrant. "This is a new day for us. I can't give you an automatic answer as to how we should act," he says.

That's the sort of uncertainty that comes with losing a governorship that had been in Democratic hands for 36 years. Leggett was elected by his party last month, taking over from Wayne L. Rogers.

Leggett chose to accentuate the positive, noting Democratic gains in the state's congressional delegation. The party still holds wide margins in the state Senate and House of Delegates.

The sheer number of Democrats poses a problem for Leggett. Because party membership is varied, there is a diversity of opinion on key issues. The differences can make it hard to speak with one voice.

On legalizing slot machines, for example, Leggett says: "You see prominent Democrats on different sides."

Still, Leggett says, the party embraces all of its factions. Regardless of how Democrats feel about gambling, he says there is widespread agreement in the party that slots alone wouldn't provide enough revenue to balance the budget without significant - and potentially harmful - cuts to social programs.

Wisdom of `political person' as budget chief questioned

One of Ehrlich's as-yet-unannounced Cabinet selections is facing criticism from a top State House Democrat.

Sources close to Ehrlich say his campaign manager, James C. "Chip" DiPaula, is in line to become secretary of the Department of Budget and Management, a high-profile position, given the state's current fiscal condition.

The appointment was to be announced yesterday but has been delayed, as the Ehrlich transition sticks to a curious, one-a-day rollout of high-level administration selections.

By all accounts, DiPaula, 40, did a masterful job on the campaign. But his work experience is almost entirely political: He was a deputy to Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson and the stage manager of the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia - a resume that is troubling to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

"That would be a mistake," the Prince George's County Democrat said last week, speaking about the selection. "He's a political person. The person in charge of the governor's budget should be perceived as a numbers-cruncher."

Miller continued: "We don't want a David Stockman situation, where the budget is submitted and the damage has already been done, and everybody knows it," a reference to President Ronald Reagan's first budget chief. Stockman became the White House's chief advocate for "trickle-down" economics, later acknowledging that he knew the premise was flawed.

As usual, Ehrlich aides refused to comment on Cabinet appointments until they have been officially announced.

Might `transition team' be stealth re-election team?

William Donald Schaefer apparently won't be coasting through his second term as state comptroller.

Schaefer has announced the formation of a high-powered "transition team" that has State House observers wondering a few things: Why does he need such a team when he's not transitioning to anything? Does the panel serve another purpose - such as keeping his political future alive?

The roster of the 19-member board reads like the Committee to Re-elect the Comptroller. It includes not only Schaefer loyalists such as Mark Wasserman, Bob Douglas and Lainy Lebow-Sachs, but business leaders, attorneys and politicians who have worked with the former mayor and governor for years.

The chairman will be Washington attorney R. Robert Linowes, former leader of a blue-ribbon panel that examined the state's fiscal structure.

Other members include Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. chief Willard Hackerman; departing Sen. Robert R. Neall; and state juvenile justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson. Many - such as Neall, fresh off yet another fiscal structure commission - probably would like a break from such high-level panels, but they'll have no such luck.

According to Schaefer spokeswoman Christine Duray, the committee will examine how taxpayers use technology, and how the comptroller's office is organized.

"There's a lot of things we can do to make his term better," she said. "This agency has the capability of doing good things for the state of Maryland, and we can make it better."

Bipartisan team to lead Balto. County delegation

As expected, long-marginalized Republican lawmakers who filled back benches of the State House legislative chambers are gaining prominence at the dawn of the Ehrlich administration.

The latest example: Del. A. Wade Kach of Cockeysville has been chosen vice chairman of Baltimore County's House delegation.

Delegation Chairman Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, a Democrat, said it is the first time in recent history that a county delegation has chosen leaders of different parties. The move, he said in a statement, gives the county "the best opportunity to maximize its political clout" in Annapolis.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Baltimore County is the home of the governor-elect, and that votes from the area proved crucial to his margin of victory.

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