- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The Ehrlich administration said yesterday that the governor was not invited to address the Democratic-controlled House on opening day for the first time in recent memory, setting the tone for another 90 contentious days with the chamber.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said seats were reserved for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, and that he is “always welcome in our chamber.”

However, Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said, “a seat reserved in the House and an invitation are two different things.”

Said Miss DeLeaver: “It’s our understanding that [the governor] did not receive an invitation.”

This is the first time a governor has not addressed the House in at least five years, according to the state’s Department of Legislative Services.

The incident underscores the discord in Annapolis between Democrats and Republicans.

Earlier in the day, House Minority Leader George C. Edwards forced a floor vote on whether Mr. Busch should serve a third term as speaker. The proposal was defeated 93 to 0, with no Republicans voting.

Mr. Edwards, Garrett County Republican, said his move was in response to Mr. Busch and other House Democrats’ squelching debate about the governor’s efforts on reforming medical-malpractice insurance.

“We thought this was one way to show our frustration,” Mr. Edwards said.

Mr. Ehrlich addressed the Senate yesterday, asking lawmakers to work with the administration.

“The last session we had a lot of success,” he said.

On Tuesday,lawmakers overrode nine of Mr. Ehrlich’s 19 vetoes.

Mr. Ehrlich acknowledged philosophical differences on key issues, but asked the senators to be open toward this year’s legislative agenda.

He also vowed this session to focus on children’s issues and witness protection.

“We think we have a very positive agenda,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

Still, he had a stern message for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, and others who have wavered in their commitment to reform the state’s medical-malpractice system.

Mr. Miller, a trial lawyer, was among the lawmakers who overrode the governor’s vetoes.

“It is not always a good thing to go along to get along and pretend you agree when you don’t,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

The governor delivered the message, despite Mr. Miller’s endorsement minutes earlier.

“He is the popular elected governor of the state,” Mr. Miller told Senate lawmakers. “I pledge my support to work with the administration.”

Mr. Busch, who for the last two years has opposed the governor’s plan to put slot machines at horse-racing tracks, supported many of Mr. Ehrlich’s medical-malpractice reforms.

However, last month he moved House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert County Republican, from his front-row seat after he began to argue that lawmakers should vote Mr. Busch out of leadership. Mr. Busch also reassigned him from the Judiciary Committee to the Appropriations Committee.

Mr. O’Donnell has served on the Judiciary Committee for 10 years.

Mr. Busch said he did not think such squabbling was “healthy for the institution.”

“The delegate went over the line,” Mr. Busch said. “When someone wants to remove the presiding officer, I go back to sitting in my delegation chair. He has been here long enough to know the rules.”

Last year, in a similar move, the Senate’s entire Republican contingent unsuccessfully boycotted the election of Mr. Miller, the nation’s longest-serving presiding officer, saying he has tried to stifle their input.

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