- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — State Republicans say Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell and Sen. David R. Brinkley emerged as stalwarts in the 2007 General Assembly and as the party’s rising stars. However, any hopes they might have about running for higher office in 2010 are on hold until former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele decide their political futures.

Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Brinkley would be natural picks to run for governor in 2010, House Minority Whip Allan H. Kittleman, Howard Republican, said this week, but “you have to think [Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele] are the first two you look at.”

As the House and Senate minority leaders in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, respectively, Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Brinkley led Republicans to several small victories, including the passage of legislation known as Jessica’s Law that cracks down on sex offenders. They also blocked a drive to grant in-state college tuition rates to illegal aliens.

However, much of their success was judged on their ability to shore up the party and choose battles wisely after Mr. Ehrlich lost in November to Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

That Mr. O’Donnell, from Western Maryland,and Mr. Brinkley, from Southern Maryland, were without a Republican governor in fact worked to their advantage because they no longer had to fight for such divisive Ehrlich initiatives as slot-machine legislation and medical malpractice insurance reform.

“I thought they did terrific jobs, and I am fans of both,” said Mr. Ehrlich, among the first to praise Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Brinkley. “But the problem is without the executive branch, without the votes, they have limited ability to impact the debate.”

Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele now work as lawyers and have other jobs that keep them in the public eye.

Mr. Steele also is chairman of the conservative fundraising group GOPAC. Mr. Ehrlich, who also has a radio show in Baltimore, recently sent out a fundraising letter to keep open his campaign offices.

In 1994, Mr. O’Donnell, 46, and Mr. Brinkley, 47, won House seats and last year they won close races to become chamber leaders.

“I think both of them have great potential,” said former Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican. “They’re definitely material for moving up where they choose, both are very bright and both are very solid, stable leaders.”

Mr. Brinkley got started in Maryland politics by volunteering on campaigns when he was 8. He won his first race, for the Frederick County Republican Central Committee, in 1990.

As the committee’s vice chairman, Mr. Brinkley opened the doors to more donors and brought in national speakers, including Tom Clancy and Oliver North, to boost fundraising.

He also set a tone of moderation, which he has carried with him as the minority leader.

“Extremism and extreme positions are just as hurtful to the Republicans as they are to the Democrats,” Mr. Brinkley said last week at his home office, the attic of his house in New Market.

Mr. O’Donnell moved to Maryland in 1988 from outside of Harrisburg, Pa., and said he caught the “political bug” working for his former Navy shipmate’s unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican.

He later began organizing precincts for Republicans in Calvert County, driven by his belief that government should not be a “nanny state.”

“I don’t need the government telling me everything that I need to do and not do,” Mr. O’Donnell said while walking along the boardwalk on Solomons Island, in his home district. “I need the government to do some essential things, but beyond that, get out of our lives, let us lead our lives.”

Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Brinkley rode the Republican wave of 1994, led by Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and both say fiscal conservatism is what unites state Republicans and will help them win more seats.

“The Republican Party will regain its stature by being steadfast to its fiscal conservatism,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Brinkley are looking to 2010 to rebuild the party’s ranks in the legislature.

“We have to be principled, and if we go down the path of ‘go along to get along,’ there’s no use in even being there,” Mr O’Donnell said. “You can’t fight every battle either.”

Both men won high marks from their Democratic colleagues this session, including a standing ovation for Republican lawmakers in the Senate on the last day of the 2007 session, an invitation to rejoin the secretive Fiscal Leaders Committee and breakfast meetings with Mr. O’Malley.

“I think they did exceptionally well, I think they got along very well with the [O’Malley] administration,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s Democrat. “They had some more than modest gains.”

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