5 people's lives to illustrate state of the state

Governor will highlight residents he met last year in his address today

January 29, 2003|By David Nitkin and Sarah Koenig | David Nitkin and Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has crafted his first State of the State address around the lives of five Marylanders he met during the past year, using their stories today to illustrate his administration's goals.

During the 45-minute speech to be delivered at noon inside the State House chambers of the House of Delegates in Annapolis, Ehrlich will introduce an Eastern Shore waterman, a family torn by gun violence and residents who represent the benefits of education, drug treatment and services for people with disabilities.

"I think it's an approach that's real, that touches people's lives," Ehrlich said yesterday. "It's a cross section of people and groups that I met while campaigning, and they told me their stories."

Aides say Ehrlich wrote the speech, titled "Faces of Maryland," largely without assistance. Staffers participated in a brainstorming session with the governor to develop talking points, but Ehrlich took the outline and wrote the text alone.

With feet propped on his desk yesterday as he reviewed the speech inside a white three-ring binder, Ehrlich warned a visitor that he might stray from his prepared remarks, despite the large audience that will gather to hear his longest and most substantive remarks to date.

Ehrlich also said that he hopes the speech reinforces the collegial relationship he hopes to develop with the General Assembly, which is about a quarter of the way through its 90-day legislative session.

He said he hopes lawmakers remember the people he introduces when applicable legislation is debated.

"I want the legislators, when they vote, to remember the faces and the individuals," Ehrlich said, calling the remarks "a conversation with the General Assembly."

Administration officials would not release a copy of the text yesterday or the names of the people to be highlighted.

Traditionally, first-year Maryland governors do not deliver State of the State speeches, in part because their tenure is considered insufficient to form such an assessment. Instead, their inaugural addresses have outlined their policy goals.

But Ehrlich delivered a relatively short inauguration speech this month, spending as much time thanking his family members and friends as talking about his vision for Maryland.

Today's address should help fill in gaps concerning his objectives, the governor said. Topics will include the environment and water quality, education, drug treatment, gun violence and services for people with disabilities.

The rhetorical technique of highlighting audience members has been used in recent years by presidents and presidential candidates, but Ehrlich said it was new to a Maryland address.

"It's different," he said.

A year ago, Gov. Parris N. Glendening delivered a nontraditional State of the State speech. He recounted a conversation with former South African President Nelson Mandela and said decisions by the Maryland General Assembly could create "ripples of hope" that could help solve difficult global problems such as AIDS in Africa.

The speech was widely viewed as an effort by Glendening to create a platform for his next job, possibly as a national environmental official.

"He weirded out the legislature," Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican and Ehrlich's pick for transportation secretary, said at the time. "He talked about everything but outer space exploration, and the budget crisis he created."

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