- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Republican lawmakers yesterday chided the General Assembly’s Democratic leadership for blocking the governor’s agenda and using budget cuts to fire state workers who have been hired by the administration.

“I’ve never seen this level of destructive behavior — almost vitriolic attacks — against the governor and some of his appointments,” Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus said yesterday at a press conference in front of the State House.

Mr. Stoltzfus, of Somerset County, was joined at the press conference by Senate colleagues and House leaders in a show of support for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a fellow Republican.

They decried moves by the legislature’s Democratic majority to kill the governor’s bills, block confirmation of 82 of his appointees and fire dozens of workers through budget cuts.

House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell appealed to Democratic leaders to return to a fair debate of the issues or else face voter backlash in the next election.

“The citizens of Maryland don’t like obstructionism for political purposes,” said Mr. O’Donnell, Calvert County Republican.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, countered by criticizing the Republican lawmakers and lauding the job of the Appropriations Committee.

“I find it ironic that the Republicans are no longer in support of reducing the size of government and reducing taxes,” he said.

Some lawmakers and state officials have characterized the job cuts targeted by the House Appropriations Committee as retaliation against a perceived purging of Democrats from patronage jobs in state government by the Ehrlich administration.

Democratic leaders plan to convene an investigative committee to probe the governor’s personnel decisions. Yesterday, Mr. Ehrlich responded with letters to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, and Mr. Busch.

“There is a small number of legislators who obviously believe they can use lies and other false charges to make this situation into a political witch hunt,” the governor wrote. “Their statements are false. … I am extremely proud of my administrations’ record of inclusion.” The governor called for the Democratic leaders “to define a basis for any hearings.”

Mr. Ehrlich also assigned Andrea Fulton, director of personnel within the Department of Budget and Management, to mediate the issue.

“The risk of political grandstanding and wasting taxpayer money are evident to all,” he wrote.

Democratic lawmakers proposed a probe after learning Feb. 8 that longtime Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. had used e-mail and Internet chat rooms to spread infidelity rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2006.

Democratic lawmakers expanded the scope of the probe based on press accounts describing Mr. Steffen, who worked as a spokesman for the Maryland Insurance Administration, as a political operative who called himself “Dr. Death” because he rooted out Democrats to be fired from state jobs.

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