Cabinet includes business, Assembly

Its lack of experience, diversity among issues

Six positions remain unfilled

January 20, 2003|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

For weeks, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has sprinkled forth his Cabinet nominees, one or two at a time.

Now, with 14 named and six to go, the aggregate group is showing some general characteristics: It is no accident that they include a high proportion of current or former legislators, and of business executives.

And, some say, overall they appear to be somewhat thin on serious administrative experience -- and on ethnic and gender diversity.

The proportions could change, of course, once the final picks are made to run the departments of agriculture, public safety, environment, natural resources, higher education and health. (Ehrlich said he would have them all named before his inauguration Wednesday, and then by the end of last week.)

Of those nominated, five have recently served -- or are still serving -- in the Maryland General Assembly, another has a wife in the House of Delegates, and one was on the Prince George's County Council.

Three are business people. Three are African-American, and two are women -- selected to run the relatively small departments of aging and planning. Two are Democrats.

There are 22 Cabinet members in all, including the lieutenant governor and the superintendent of schools, who is chosen by the state school board. Some run enormous agencies, such as the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which employs 12,000 people. Others have jobs mysterious to most Marylanders, such as adjutant general, who is responsible for the Maryland National Guard.

If confirmed by the Senate, all of them will be charged with transforming the behemoth of state government from a Democratic bureaucracy into a Republican "lean, mean responsive machine," in the words of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, at a time of severe fiscal constraint. Their task is to enact Ehrlich's policies, make their agencies more efficient, and never make the governor look bad.

Ehrlich says his first priority in picking Cabinet members was common philosophy. "The most important question was `Are you with our program?' ... Loyalty, yeah, but also, are you really buying in to what we're trying to do?" he said.

He also wanted a team that was politically savvy, he said. For the first time in three decades, a Republican governor must try to push his budget and policies through a legislature controlled by Democrats. Ehrlich needs all the insider knowledge he can get.

"You'll notice that we have a bunch of former legislators," he said. "Particularly when you have a new Republican administration, it's going to be a big help to have people who understand the legislative process, and have experience dealing with the legislature. ... We have a very unique challenge here."

In addition, all the former state lawmakers are people Ehrlich knew and liked when he served in the House of Delegates. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., Ehrlich's nominee for the Department of Juvenile Justice, served with him on the House Judiciary Committee, and his Transportation Department pick, Del. Robert L. Flanagan, was active in his campaign.

Some sitting Democratic lawmakers say Ehrlich is smart to load up his Cabinet with their colleagues, and that they look forward to working with them. "I'm very happy that he's chosen a lot of legislators," said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve. "It shows that he wants to work with the legislature."

But others say they're a tad worried that while some of Ehrlich's picks might have good political instincts, their resumes seem to lack hefty administrative experience. Ehrlich has never been an executive.

"They have a very light bench," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said of the state GOP. "It's not the best of all possible worlds, but it's understandable" why Ehrlich chose whom he chose. Their lack of experience, he said, "is not a major concern, but it is a concern."

Flanagan, a lawyer, has not managed a large organization before; nor has Ehrlich's former campaign manager, James C. DiPaula Jr., nominated as budget secretary, run anything close to a $22 billion operation such as the state of Maryland.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said the advantage the three previous governors had over Ehrlich in choosing a Cabinet is "that they either had executive experience ... or an idea of who they wanted to bring, who had established themselves as good administrators in counties."

Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening brought in many managers from Prince George's County, where he had been county executive. "Many might look at it as a drawback that Governor Ehrlich does not have those resources to draw on, so he's starting with a core of people that does not have real experience in managing government," Busch said.

But the people in charge of Ehrlich's transition team say they are thrilled with the level of experience -- and business smarts -- the Cabinet reflects.

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