- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — House Republicans yesterday staged a protest vote against the election of Speaker Michael E. Busch, who for many has come to embody Democratic obstructionism to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The rash of red “no” votes across the tote board reflected the caucus’ resolve in confronting majority power and foreshadowed the partisan showdowns to come in the General Assembly that opened yesterday.

“Forget the vote today. We have a lot of division on the issues,” said House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, Western Maryland Republican.

The election-year session likely will be dominated by partisan clashes over such key issues as same-sex “marriage,” election laws and eminent domain.

Mr. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat first elected speaker in 2003, said he did not think the votes against him were justified.

“It reflects more on them then anyone else,” said Mr. Busch, who assumed the chamber’s top post by a 95-34 vote. “From a maturity standpoint, you look beyond this.”

Mr. Edwards said his caucus lodged the protest because the Democratic leadership denied a Republican request to nominate their own candidate for speaker. The nomination would be strictly symbolic, because Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1 in the chamber, which assured Mr. Busch’s election.

Mr. Busch said that permitting a minority nomination would have set a bad precedent.

“This is about the traditions and integrity of the institution,” he said.

All but two of the 43 House Republicans joined the protest vote. Seven abstained.

Four Democrats also did not vote, including Mr. Busch.

The two Republicans voting for the speaker were A. Wade Kach and John G. Trueschler,both of Baltimore County.

publicans voted against the election of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Still, the opening ceremonies included gestures of bipartisanship on both sides of the aisle.

All the Republican delegates, for example, joined the standing ovation for Mr. Busch after his election.

The speaker also set a conciliatory tone in his remarks to the chamber.

He commended Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, for his efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and his pledges to increase spending on higher education and public school construction.

The Democrats’ priorities this session will be funding stem-cell research, providing better veterans benefits, expanding monitoring of sex offenders, improving the Bay and passing property-tax relief, Mr. Busch said.

Mr. Ehrlich also has proposed lifetime monitoring of sex offenders and expanding the property-tax credit program for senior citizens and the working poor.

“Hopefully we can find some common ground,” Mr. Edwards said.

House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Montgomery Democrat, said the partisan good will likely would be short-lived.

“We’ll see how long that lasts,” he said. “Let’s see what happens when we override the governor’s Wal-Mart veto.”

As early as today, the Democrats are expected to override the veto of the so-called Wal-Mart bill that would require large employers to pay for employee health benefits.

They also are expected to vote to overturn Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of a bill increasing the state minimum wage to $6.15 per hour, which would make it $1 higher than the federal minimum wage.

Mr. Ehrlich attended the ceremonial first session accompanied by Maryland first lady Kendal Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Also in attendance were several Democratic officials, including two gubernatorial hopefuls, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

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