GOP's top man in House vows a strong voice

O'Donnell's stance trumps conciliatory approach in race for minority leader

December 20, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

Republicans in the House of Delegates chose one of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s most outspoken backers as minority leader yesterday, signaling a desire to provide a vocal opposition to the Democrats who now control the governorship as well as the legislature.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the Southern Maryland Republican who served as minority whip for the last four years, will move up to the role of minority leader when the legislature reconvenes in January, taking over the spot held by state Sen.-elect George C. Edwards. Republicans elected Del. Christopher B. Shank of Washington County as the new minority whip.

With Ehrlich's loss, O'Donnell said, it will be incumbent on Republican leaders in the legislature to act as the voice of opposition to the Democratic Party.

"We will work very closely with our colleagues in the Senate and the state party to articulate what we believe represents the views of hundreds of thousands of Marylanders," O'Donnell said. "We will be respectful in our tone. We will look for areas of collegiality, but on matters of principle, we will be aggressive."

O'Donnell faced a strong challenge from Del. A. Wade Kach, a Baltimore County Republican who was backed by a large contingent in the House caucus who wanted to establish a more collaborative relationship with the Democratic leaders of the chamber.

O'Donnell also faced criticism from some in his caucus as a strong proponent of an election strategy that focused on trying to pick up seats rather than protect incumbents. The GOP lost six seats in the House in the November election, leaving it at a 37-104 disadvantage.

Fallout from the election could also complicate the Republican caucus' dealings with the legislature. Among the Democratic legislators unsuccessfully targeted by the GOP is Del. Norman H. Conway, the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. O'Donnell said he expects bygones to be bygones.

"We went through a very trying election cycle," O'Donnell said. "I was certainly targeted in my election. ... Now it's time to move on with the people's business."

The selection of O'Donnell and Shank comes a day after the Senate Republican caucus selected a leader from a different mold than O'Donnell. The Senate caucus chose Sen. David R. Brinkley, a relatively quiet, behind-the-scenes leader from Frederick County, over Sen. Andrew P. Harris, the Baltimore County Republican known for his aggressive opposition to the Democratic leadership.

Republicans in the legislature, fresh from four years during which an Ehrlich administration gave them more influence over state policy than they had seen in a generation, have spent the last several weeks debating how best to maintain relevance in the Democrat-dominated capital. O'Donnell and Shank said the GOP has had success in influencing policy when in so distinct a minority before and can do so again -- for example, by publicizing their proposals for spending cuts.

"When there is a proposal for a tax increase ... it is our job to express an alternative," Shank said. "Of course, we have to work with the Democrats, and it's not about throwing bombs, but it is about letting the people of Maryland know there are choices, and in a free and fair electoral system, the public gets to decide at the end of the term."

However, Republicans don't have the numbers to end a filibuster in the Senate or override a veto of the governor -- which each take a three-fifths majority.

A spokesman for Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley said the Democrat called Brinkley yesterday to offer his congratulations and to request a meeting. He intends to do the same with the new House leaders, the spokesman said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch also announced the appointments of new members of his leadership team yesterday. Busch named Del. Shane E. Pendergrass of Howard County deputy majority leader and Del. Dan K. Morhaim of Baltimore County assistant majority leader.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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