GOP is seeking to be less confrontational

Some Republicans in House of Delegates pushing for new leadership

November 16, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,sun reporter

Their party reeling from the loss of the governorship and seats in the legislature, several Republicans in the House of Delegates are pushing for new leadership and a move away from the confrontational tactics that defined relations between the GOP and Democratic General Assembly leaders for the past four years.

The drive for more cooperation is the first move in what is expecting to be a post-election retrenching for the state GOP. Top party posts in the state Senate are also up for grabs, and the Maryland Republican Party is likely to select a new chairman to oversee operations.

In all cases, the central question is whether the minority party - outnumbered in voter registration by nearly 2-to-1 - should throw rocks from the sidelines or attempt to engage the Democrats in compromise.

"We're going to have to stand up and fight for our values on specific issues, but I think we need to change the approach that we've used for the last few years," said Del. Barry Glassman, a Harford County Republican who supports new leadership in the House. "We kind of need to be sharpshooters instead of bomb throwers, and I think you can do that in a fashion where you can work with the speaker and the new governor."

The target of the brewing House coup is Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the minority whip from Southern Maryland. O'Donnell distinguished himself over the past four years as an ardent supporter of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and a fierce partisan eager to stand up to House Speaker Michael E. Busch and other leaders in the Democratic majority.

With Del. George C. Edwards, the current minority leader, headed for the state Senate, O'Donnell would be next in line for the top job. But several Republican legislators said they are pushing to replace him with someone who could establish a more collaborative relationship with the Democrats.

The O'Donnell opposition is lining up behind Del. A. Wade Kach, a Republican from northern Baltimore County, who lost out in a leadership fight three years ago. Kach is generally regarded as more mild-mannered than O'Donnell.

"We believe Wade is just as conservative as Tony and has a personality that is more conducive to the current situation in Annapolis," said Del. Patrick McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican.

A similar situation appears to be developing in the Senate, where a showdown to become minority leader is brewing between hard-charging Sen. Andrew P. Harris, the minority whip from Baltimore County, and Sen. David R. Brinkley, a more low-key Republican who represents parts of Carroll and Frederick counties. The top post is vacant because Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus of the Eastern Shore is not seeking it again.

O'Donnell, said he is confident that he will have the votes to prevail, and he acknowledged the need for some changes, "I don't think we have to go out of our way to look for fights. In fact, we may have to look for opportunities to work together with the other side," he said. "But we will not be co-opted."

Kach said he believes he has the support of the majority of the caucus. He said he would work to secure a bigger role for Republican legislators in drafting policy.

"The legislature and the state government is a whole new ballgame, and we need a new style of leadership," Kach said.

O'Donnell, along with party Chairman John Kane, who is not expected to continue in his post, was a key player in the GOP's "14 and 5" plan, an effort to target Democratic legislators in districts that voted heavily for Ehrlich in 2002. A pickup of 14 seats in the House or five in the Senate would have been enough for the party to sustain Ehrlich's vetoes.

But Ehrlich lost, and instead of picking up seats, the Republicans broke even in the Senate and lost at least six in the House. Unless late absentee ballots change close races, 37 of the 141 House members will be Republican when the new General Assembly takes office in January. The Senate will have 14 Republicans and 33 Democrats.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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