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Bipartisan message applauded

January 30, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County lawmakers on Thursday commended Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's call for a bipartisan approach to solving the state's problems.

In his second State of the State address since he became Maryland's first Republican governor in nearly four decades, Ehrlich outlined an agenda of protecting the environment and increasing public safety while keeping state spending in check.

At the end of the talk, Ehrlich stressed cooperation between the administration and the majority-Democrat legislature.

He told delegates and senators they should look for common ground while sticking to the principles that got them elected.

Del. John P. Donoghue, the lone Democrat in the eight-member Washington County Delegation, called the bipartisan appeal the highlight of Ehrlich's address.

"I am absolutely in support of the governor's efforts to take care of our transportation and education needs," he said. "If we all work together, I think we can compromise and resolve all of our fiscal woes, just like we did 12 years ago under Gov. (William Donald) Schaefer."

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When told of Donoghue's comments, Del. Christopher B. Shank said, "We're off to a great start."

Some of the more liberal Democrats who dominate the Maryland General Assembly rolled their eyes when Ehrlich talked about giving farmers more flexibility with farmland runoff regulations and expanding capital punishment.

Del. Richard Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, said their dissatisfaction grows out of their own inability to control state spending and help the Chesapeake Bay.

Weldon praised Ehrlich for his accomplishments.

"In a year, he's been able to do what Parris Glendening could not do in eight years," Weldon said. "That accounts for the frustration we sensed today."

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Ehrlich's speech reflected his practical approach to running state government.

"This governor laid out a vision unlike what I heard before of doing the people's business," he said.

Munson said Ehrlich has already taken steps to stop the partisan bickering over the rules that dominated the opening days of the session this month and had threatened to gum up the legislative process.

Since Ehrlich met with some of the legislators, things are running much more smoothly in the Senate, Munson said.

"That shows real leadership," he said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, who sparred with Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, denied that Ehrlich met with him about the issue and said the attacks on Miller have not been partisan.

"I stand up for minority rights and I stand up for what I believe in. That's not partisan," said Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

Mooney said the governor's address highlighted some areas where the two sides can come together. As a conservative, though, Mooney said he would have liked to hear Ehrlich talk about lower taxes and less government spending.

"I'm glad he's holding the line on the major taxes," he said.

Shank said Ehrlich's agenda should appeal to people on both sides of the political aisle.

"I'm certainly hopeful the Democrats will work with us to implement what I consider a nonpartisan agenda," Shank said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. said he was glad to hear the governor talk about spending within the state's means and hopes the bipartisan message works.

"We have a huge responsibility, not only as legislators but to our citizens," said Myers, R-Allegany/Washington.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, agreed.

"I hear that resonate back home with folks," McKee said, adding that families feel that if they have to live within their means, the state should as well.

While there was a lot of talk about cooperation, there remains a wide philosophical gulf between the two parties.

Republicans have offered slot machines as a way to pay for increases in education spending and a possible car registration fee increase to pay for highway projects.

Democrats have called for a more comprehensive solution to the state's long-term budget deficit, such as an increase in the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent.

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