Opening Day 2006

Friday, Jan. 13, 2006

For more, see our Annapolis coverage.


Click here to enlarge this photo
Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
Del. Tony E. Fulton, who died in May, was recalled for his ‘‘infectious smile” and praised for never bending ‘‘to the winds of political correctness.”




Click here to enlarge this photo
Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
Del. Tony E. Fulton, who died in May, was recalled for his ‘‘infectious smile” and praised for never bending ‘‘to the winds of political correctness.”

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland General Assembly roared back into town this week, full of fire and spit and vigor.

Senate President Mike Miller started it off Tuesday, telling a raucous bunch of Democrats that Bob Ehrlich’s service to Marylanders is akin to a one-eyed bull humping a cow.

Sen. John Giannetti held an ‘‘interdenominational prayer breakfast” Thursday morning after a controversial three years that have included damaging headlines about tailgate parties, strip club locations and a questionable ‘‘leadership academy,” not to mention inviting the Redskinettes and considering putting slot machines at his Laurel Park fund-raiser in 2003.

Paul Schurick, Ehrlich’s communications director, resorted to an Internet search during a briefing Tuesday night because while he knew that TEDCO was key to the gov’s stem cell research initiative, he didn’t know what the acronym stood for or who heads it.

That’s just some of the circus-like atmosphere that marked the first week of the 2006 General Assembly session.

The legislature was gaveled into session Wednesday amid pageantry that gave way less than 24 hours later to bare-knuckled partisan battling over veto overrides.

The week was expected to end with Democrats siding with labor to override Ehrlich’s vetoes of the Wal-Mart bill and a dollar hike in the minimum wage, along with other initiatives.

Taking part in the festivities, as always, was a who’s who of Maryland politics.

U.S. Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, Maryland’s congressional delegation and slews of candidates all showed up.

Opening day also marked the first day of the last sessions for three senators, John Hafer, Len Teitelbaum and Paula Hollinger.

Hafer, with 16 years in the Senate, and Teitelbaum, with 12 years, are retiring. Hollinger, a senator for 20 years, is running for Congress in the Third District.

Candidates, candidates everywhere

Kevin O’Keeffe roamed the halls Wednesday as a candidate for Congress in the Third District, not as the lobbyist for Anne Arundel county exec Janet Owens, who has yet to say whether she will run for the same seat.

On Tuesday, Oz Bengur, another Third District candidate, stopped by the State House press pit to talk shop.

Annapolis lobbyist and former Baltimore county exec Dennis Rasmussen (D), who threw his hat into the U.S. Senate race Tuesday night, worked the State House lobby on Wednesday (not sure if it was for his clients or his campaign).

Republican Daniel Vovak , boasting a bright white colonial-style wig, announced his Senate bid on the State House steps Wednesday, underscoring the general weirdness of opening day.

Would-be attorney general candidates Montgomery State’s Attorney Doug Gansler and Monty Councilman Tom Perez made the rounds Wednesday although the man they would succeed, Joe Curran, is still playing coy about his re-election plans.

Gubernatorial wannabes Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and MoCo exec Doug Duncan took turns bashing Ehrlich.

‘‘The Democratic Party’s message has become clearer with every passing year with the failures of the Ehrlich administration,” O’Malley said. ‘‘We are prepared for battle.”

Duncan entered the Senate chamber, accompanied by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy, said to be one of the finalists for Duncan’s looie slot.

‘‘What an attractive team. That is a good-looking couple,” Mike Miller noted from the dais.

Duncan hasn’t made any decisions, he said later.

What’s up with Wayne?

Wayne Curry refuses to get out of the news.

After being linked to Ehrlich as a potential running mate, the former Prince George’s county exec is now being talked about as a challenger to Miller.

Curry and Miller are archenemies, and Republicans have been playing up the angle that Curry may be pondering a challenge against the Senate prez.

That Republicans are pushing the talk and that Miller has almost universal name recognition throughout District 27 gives many pause, figuring that the buzz is just ‘‘Wayne being Wayne.”

One Prince George’s source confirmed, however, that a Curry-Miller primary has been floated in key circles. Curry met with members of the Ehrlich administration on Tuesday when the Senate discussion came up, we’re told.

Asked about running for Miller’s seat, Curry did not deny he was interested. He didn’t say he was either.

Another GOP theory is that if Curry ran against Miller, it would avoid the suggestion that Curry turned Ehrlich down for the No. 2 slot.

Many Dems dismissed the Curry vs. Miller talk as saber-rattling and predicted that Miller’s hold on the Senate will continue on nobody’s terms but his own.

Face-off

Majority Leader Nathaniel McFadden wants the Senate to reject Ehrlich’s nomination of former delegate Frank Boston to the Board of Regents at Morgan State University.

Morgan grad McFadden said Ehrlich ‘‘blind-sided” city legislators when he decided not to reappoint Rep. Elijah Cummings to the board. Ehrlich aides said Cummings did not attend enough meetings to be reappointed under law.

Cummings disputed that, telling us that the administration is ‘‘playing petty political games.”

McFadden said he has no problem with Boston (not to be confused with the Wal-Mart lobbyist), but Cummings is a far better representative for the university.

‘‘There are major concerns about the appointment of Mr. Boston,” McFadden said.

In 1998, Democrat Boston ran against the late Senate Majority Leader Clarence Blount, a Morgan grad who is revered at the university. Four years later, he ran against Sen. Lisa Gladden.

Gladden has no problems with Boston personally, but said comparing Boston to Cummings is no contest.

Ain’t happening

As we reported in July, the chances of the General Assembly changing this year’s primary date are slim to none.

Resistance in the House of Delegates is too strong, the Democratic Party’s top cheerleader for the change acknowledged this week.

Rep. Steny Hoyer pointed out that Sarbanes, Mikulski and the Democratic county executives supported the move, but that did not seem to change any minds in the House.

‘‘A significant number of members in the House of Delegates did not support the effort,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hoyer squelched any speculation that there is dissension among congressional Dems. Columnist Robert Novak wrote recently that some Democrats want Hoyer to take on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Novak ‘‘is trying to sow discontent within the party that does not exist,” Hoyer said, adding that he would support Pelosi for House speaker if the Democrats were to win back control of the House in November.

Keep the day job

A man calls his rabbi, afraid that his wife is poisoning him. The rabbi promises to intervene. After a long talk with the woman, the rabbi calls the man back. The wife is very upset, and the rabbi offers this advice: ‘‘Take the poison.”

Bah-dum-bump.

He’s no Henny Youngman, but Brian Frosh used the joke to nominate Ida Ruben as the Senate’s president pro tem.

‘‘My point is, don’t mess with Ida Ruben. If you do, you will wish you had taken the poison,” Frosh said.

Minutes later, the Senate elected Ruben, 47-zip.

No surprise

Mike Miller’s re-election as Senate president came with three protest votes from Republicans Alex Mooney, Janet Greenip and Andy.

The red-light caucus was protesting Miller’s comments in The (Baltimore) Sun that Dems would shoot down high-flying GOP members and bury the GOP ‘‘face down”

‘‘We’re going to put them in the ground, and it’ll be 10 years before they crawl out again,” quoth the Silver Fox.

Miller looked chagrined at having his words repeated, and laughed off the remarks as being directed at Bob Ehrlich and Mike Steele, not Senate Republicans.

The session marks Miller’s 20th as president. His election was witnessed by his wife, Patti, and two daughters, Melanie and Amanda.

A third daughter, Michelle, missed the event, apparently trying to find a place to park.

‘‘She’s the one that votes ‘R,’ so she has to use the Naval Academy parking lot,” Miller joked.

Fulton tribute

The House broke from business Wednesday to pay tribute to Tony Fulton, the Baltimore Democrat who died of cancer on May 20.

Ehrlich, who was elected to the House with Fulton in 1986, told the chamber that the 53-year-old delegate repeatedly demonstrated his toughness by showing commitment to his job even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003.

Ehrlich, who was joined at the dais by Fulton’s wife, Jacqueline, and children, said Fulton was not afraid to bolt from his party, defy leadership and challenge stereotypes.

‘‘He would never bend to the winds of political correctness,” the governor said.

A portrait of Fulton and a bouquet sat on the empty desk Fulton occupied for nearly two decades as lawmakers remembered him during the half-hour ceremony.

‘‘The last couple days have been somewhat difficult, because I knew I’d have to come to this chamber without my friend,” said Del. Marshall Goodwin.

Del. Curt Anderson recalled playing high school lacrosse with Fulton at Baltimore City College in the late 1960s, while House Speaker Mike Busch remembered Fulton’s ‘‘infectious smile.”

Catherine Pugh, who is filling out Fulton’s term, said her predecessor was committed to being a public servant.

‘‘Everything he did was with true conviction ... and with his eyes on the people of Baltimore,” she said.

Year 4

In its second order of business — following Adrienne Jones’ selection as speaker pro tem — the House re-elected Busch to the chamber’s top post by a 95-34 vote that fell largely along party lines.

The only Republicans to fall out of line and support Busch were Wade Kach and John Trueschler.

After votes were tabulated, faint chants of ‘‘Busch” echoed through the chamber.

Busch said he wasn’t concerned about the lack of GOP support.

‘‘I try not to pay too much attention to it, because I like to think there’s too many important things to address that we have to govern,” he said.

Tiny slate

The start of a new session provides the opportunity to heal old wounds and wipe the slate clean, if only for a short while. That appeared to be the case as Ehrlich and Busch, rivals throughout much of the governor’s first three years, exchanged warm pleasantries on Day One.

Busch even complimented the guv’s commitment to school construction aid, reducing college tuition and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.

But Busch also laid out a five-pronged agenda aimed at closing the gaps among wealthy Marylanders, the middle class and the working poor.

‘‘As well as Maryland is doing ... there are still great challenges for us to face,” he said, after calling on legislators to support embryonic stem cell research, continued restoration of the Bay, free college tuition for the spouses and children of active military guardsmen and reservists, property tax relief for residents on fixed incomes and better monitoring of sexual predators.

Several lawmakers noticed the similarities between Busch’s goals and several initiatives that Ehrlich has unveiled in the run-up to the session.

Del. Sally Jameson called said Busch’s proposals ‘‘an echo of the governor’s agenda.”

Sage advice

Paul Sarbanes, attending his final opening day as a U.S. senator, revisited his past by taking in the view from the seat he occupied 39 years ago when he was first elected to the House. Del. Curtis Anderson now sits at the desk.

During brief remarks, Sarbanes encouraged legislators to ‘‘move toward consensus without forsaking your principles.”

Final word

We leave it to Mary Kane, Ehrlich’s nominee for secretary of state and a possible looie at the boss’s side, to sum up opening day.

‘‘Let the games begin,” she said.

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