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State GOP was swept away by blue tide

November 12, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Analysis - After a long night of counting votes, Republicans across Maryland woke up Wednesday with a serious case of the blues.

Emboldened after the 2002 elections saw more Republicans joining the ranks of the General Assembly and the first Republican governor elected since Spiro Agnew, GOP leaders laid plans for turning more of this blue state red.

Their goal was to maintain the governor's mansion and increase their numbers in the legislature this year - by at least 14 seats in the House and five in the Senate - enough to prevent Democrats from being able to override Gov. Robert Ehrlich's vetoes at will.

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Those hopes were dashed Tuesday as voters vented their frustration over national issues such as the war and political corruption by voting Democratic - even in more local races.

While Washington County remains, for now, a GOP stronghold, this week's election results have serious implications for local lawmakers' power and influence in Annapolis.

It's who you know

For the past four years, the predominantly Republican Washington County Delegation has had a friend in the governor's office, which gave them more influence than a GOP delegation normally would have in a Democratic legislature.

With a Republican governor occupying the second floor of the statehouse, GOP legislators could count on influence in the budget process and gubernatorial appointments, and gain access to department heads.

But with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's win over Ehrlich this week, that clout will be gone when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

And with the projected cumulative loss of six to 10 seats in the House, the delegation will have fewer friends in the legislature as well.

This week found delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank assessing damage and clinging to the hope that absentee ballots would swing close races in the GOP's favor.

First elected in 1998, Shank has risen steadily in the Republican caucus ranks. Speculation has been rampant that with House Minority Leader George Edwards' pursuit of a Senate seat this year, Shank was in line for either minority leader or minority whip - the second highest party position in the House, now held by Del. Tony O'Donnell, R-Calvert/St. Mary's.

Shank said Wednesday he had spoken with O'Donnell about Tuesday's results, and that he has not changed his mind about seeking a higher party leadership position in the House.

"We are absolutely committed to moving our caucus forward," he said.

Power shift

But while the past four years have given Shank and O'Donnell an opportunity to try to flex their political muscles, Tuesday's results clearly have shifted the real power in the delegation to the one man who often found himself the odd man out during the Ehrlich administration - John P. Donoghue.

The lone Democrat in the county delegation, Donoghue has maintained influence within the Democratic majority in the House. Since the last election, Donoghue has served as chief majority whip, and currently chairs a House subcommittee on health facilities and occupations.

A former delegation chairman, Donoghue has seen his own influence within the delegation diminish as Republicans won majorities in Western Maryland. But he got behind the O'Malley campaign early; when the Baltimore mayor campaigned in Washington County, Donoghue was at his side. And when O'Malley capitalized on a sensitive local issue that Ehrlich has struggled to resolve - the safety and compensation of correctional officers - Donoghue was there, too.

With O'Malley's victory this week, Donoghue's political capital soared.

"The only power we had was on the second floor," conceded Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, referring to the governor's office. "In practical terms, to get what we want and need for the county, the power is probably with the one (Donoghue). We may control the delegation, but we will have to work with the Democrats."

"The one thing that will be helpful to us is the re-election of John Donoghue," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington. Munson pointed out Donoghue's friendship with O'Malley, and said, "I can certainly work with John."

"In my opinion, John is in a position now to show the citizens of Hagerstown and Washington County that he can deliver," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany. "The question is what is he going to do with it - will he take a leadership role more than he has in the last four years?"

"John had influence with the House leadership; that will continue," Shank said.

And in a county that voted heavily for Ehrlich, some negotiating with the new Democratic governor will be necessary, too.

"My guess is that John's given some thought to all those things," Munson said.

Cooperation key

Donoghue already has begun the groundwork with O'Malley, and with Munson.

"I've already talked to Mayor O'Malley about this, and explained that my senator and I are a team, and he understands," Donoghue said Wednesday. "I'm looking out for my constituents, and that's my job."

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