Icy relations show signs of warming

The Political Game

Invitation: The 2006 election might have played a role in the recent rapprochement between Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

February 01, 2005|By Andrew A. Green and David Nitkin | Andrew A. Green and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

THERE APPEARED to be a sudden thaw last week in the frosty relationship between Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who have found themselves embroiled in a series of spats over the past two years.

Ehrlich - who once tried to persuade a Democratic county councilman to switch parties and oppose Smith in 2006 - invited the county executive to Annapolis for the release of his capital budget and as a guest at the State of the State speech.

Smith sent out a news release announcing his delight in accepting the invitations and praising Ehrlich's budget.

Why the sudden change of heart? Part of the answer might be political expediency. According to a recent Sun poll, Ehrlich remains popular in Baltimore County but would run neck-and-neck there with Mayor Martin O'Malley in a hypothetical matchup.

Ehrlich ran so strongly in Baltimore County in 2002 that Smith (and most other Democratic candidates) did not openly campaign against him. Some Democrats said they think that by easing tensions, the governor can again keep Smith from playing an active role in gubernatorial campaigning in his county, which Ehrlich needs to win by a big margin to be re-elected.

Boutin to be named to public service panel

Del. Charles R. Boutin, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties and who is a former mayor of Aberdeen, is in line to become a member of the state Public Service Commission, sources say.

Boutin, 62, would not comment about the potential appointment, which is scheduled to be announced by the governor this month when Ehrlich nominates dozens of people for state boards and agencies on "Green Bag" day. The process is named for the pouch containing the names of nominees submitted to the state Senate.

A spot on the commission, which regulates utilities, is considered a desirable patronage position, paying more than $93,000 yearly. A vacancy was created when Ehrlich tapped Ronald A. Guns, a former GOP lawmaker, for a high-ranking position in the state Department of Natural Resources.

Busch sponsors slots bill, but may not support it

House Speaker Michael E. Busch is now formally the sponsor of Ehrlich slots legislation - but that doesn't mean Busch has dropped his opposition to the gambling plan, his staff said.

After assuming his leadership position during the 2003 legislative session, Busch broke with tradition in a much-noticed move and declined to sponsor legislation submitted by the administration, something that typically has been done as a courtesy. But when Ehrlich's slots plan was introduced in the House of Delegates last week, the speaker was the sponsor.

"Maybe he got up on the right side of the bed and is in a cooperative mood," said House Minority Leader George Edwards of Western Maryland. Busch's staff said he was simply too busy to seek out Edwards as a sponsor or co-sponsor of the legislation, as the speaker did the previous two years.

Md. gets high marks for managing infrastructure

Maryland is one of the top four states in the nation for managing its infrastructure, according to a study released yesterday by the Government Performance Project, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Overall, Maryland got a B in the study of how states manage their money, employees, infrastructure and information, placing it in the top half of states, but behind neighboring Delaware (B+) and Virginia (A-).

The study's authors lauded the state for its use of strategic planning for its infrastructure but gave the state lower marks for its performance-based budgeting, which they said has led to agencies creating such a profusion of information that it cannot effectively be used in making spending decisions.

Democratic legislators push for redistricting reform

A group of Democratic lawmakers wants to alter the way legislative and congressional districts are reshaped in Maryland after each census.

Montgomery County Democrats Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a delegate, and Sharon Grosfeld, a senator, have introduced legislation to create a study commission that would recommend how to make the state's redistricting process more non-partisan.

After the 2000 census, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening used redistricting to maximum efficiency when he drew congressional districts that wound up adding two Democrats to the state's delegation, increasing their representation from four to six.

Democrats aren't necessarily looking to take power away from Ehrlich. Because of term limits, he won't be governor in 2011, when the lines are changed again. Madaleno pointed out that in the past, Republicans were the main sponsors of redistricting reform.

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