Gov. Martin O'Malley will begin to chart a course for his second term Thursday, when he meets with his Cabinet for the first time since this week's decisive election victory.
While O'Malley, a Democrat, has outlined broad themes of how he'll approach the next four years, it remains to be seen whether he plans major staffing changes or new strategic directions.
A re-election is a chance to "fine-tune, streamline and, in effect, reinvent" an administration, said Robert Douglas, communications director for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat who served two terms ending in 1995.
Some governors, including Schaefer, chose to view a second term as a new venture, Douglas said. To do that, O'Malley could convene a transition team, gut his Cabinet and set fresh goals.
But the size of his victory — a 13-percentage-point win over Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., his longtime rival — could also be viewed as a sign that Marylanders like the direction of the administration and don't want to see changes, observers said.
O'Malley gave little indication Wednesday about how his second term would differ from the first. Hours after declaring victory, O'Malley stood on a Baltimore street corner and held a sign thanking voters in the morning, and then returned to Annapolis for a meeting of the state spending panel that made billions of dollars in budget cuts during his first term.
Those years, marked by the worst recession in decades, were "miserable," O'Malley said.
He said he is working on the next state budget and that it would be balanced without tax increases. The governor said he planned to close a $1 billion gap between revenues and spending with cuts and transfers similar to moves he has made over the past few years.
The state's slightly improving revenue means he might be able to "peel back on furloughs" to which state workers have been subjected each of the last several years.
Asked about policy initiatives he might pursue, O'Malley said "it's all dependent on an economic recovery."
He said neither he nor Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown "have any doubts about how difficult these next few years will be." Still, he said he felt somewhat optimistic, noting that the money expected to flow in from the sales tax, various fees and other money streams has increased.
If the economy cooperates, O'Malley could enjoy productive times, said former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a two-term Democrat.
"The next two years will be a high point of political power," said Glendening, who, like O'Malley, won his second race with the same opponent — in his case, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey — more decisively. "He won big, and he doesn't have to be all that cautious anymore."
Glendening said the first two years of his second term yielded some of his most significant initiatives, including the anti-sprawl effort known as Smart Growth.
At the same time, good will between a same-party executive and legislature can be diminished in the second term, since there's less of a need to look out for each other, Douglas said. For Schaefer, that meant lawmakers carping about Schaefer's supposed distaste for the Eastern Shore.
"That never would have happened in the first term," he said.
If O'Malley decides to change the face of his administration, he might start with some of the agencies that were the targets of criticism during the campaign. The environment, labor, economic development and juvenile services departments all took hits from Ehrlich and other Republicans.
And while some executives decide to change their chiefs of staff during second terms, O'Malley's top lieutenant, Matt Gallagher, is just a little over a year into his tenure.
Second terms also come with an opportunity to find homes for displaced party members, said some observers. James T. Smith Jr., the departing Baltimore County executive and a vocal O'Malley backer, leaves office at the end of the year and has not made public his next move.
Smith said Wednesday that he would like to remain in public service "if there's a place for me." Smith's support helped O'Malley fight Ehrlich to a tie in populous Baltimore County. In 2002, Ehrlich rolled up a huge margin in the county, his home base, that accounted for his statewide win.
Other issues that might draw O'Malley's attention over the next four years include a fix for the out-of-control state pension system, environmental preservation, school construction and prisoner re-entry.
And throughout the term, O'Malley will almost certainly have an eye on his future. Maryland governors cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. Critics and supporters alike have thought O'Malley harbors national political ambitions, and as a Democrat who won re-election in an overwhelmingly Republican year, he now stands as a bright example for a diminished natonal party.
"It's obvious that Martin's got a great future ahead of him," said Douglas. "Being governor is not the last chapter."