- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

ANNAPOLIS For Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele, the timing of Inauguration Day could not be more appropriate.
He will be sworn in as Maryland's first statewide elected black official on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King's birthday.
"That will be a very exciting moment for me," Mr. Steele said. "I stand in a position where no black man or woman has ever stood in Maryland. It's an opportunity I cannot squander."
Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. promises that Mr. Steele will be a full partner in the administration and will have every chance to make the most of his groundbreaking role.
Mr. Steele said in a recent interview that he was not asked to join the Ehrlich ticket until the day before the July 1 announcement that he would be the Republican lieutenant governor candidate.
"Bob said, 'I want you to help me win. I want you to help me change Maryland,'" Mr. Steele recalled. "I said, 'I have one question for you. Will I be a full partner in your administration?'"
The answer was "'yes,' and I said, 'Done.' That was it."
In Maryland, the lieutenant governor has no authority or responsibilities except those given him by the governor.
Mr. Steele already has been assigned primary responsibility for economic development, education and an Ehrlich plan to put more state money into programs administered by religious groups.
"Those are the three areas I will have some sway over," he said.
Mr. Steele said he hopes to counsel Mr. Ehrlich on other issues and be "a voice of dissent" when the two differ.
The history of the office shows the promise that Mr. Steele will be a full partner will not be an easy one to keep. Lieutenant governors, like vice presidents, often wind up on the political sidelines.
New administrations in Maryland and elsewhere typically begin with the governor and lieutenant governor full of optimism that they will be a team. But there are potential pitfalls staff jealousies, disagreements on the issues, personality conflicts between the two officials that can relegate the lieutenant governor to a lesser role despite the best of intentions.
Melvin Steinberg knows from experience how everything can quickly go very, very wrong.
Mr. Steinberg was elected lieutenant governor with William Donald Schaefer 16 years ago and, for the first term, he played a major role in the administration. But the relationship deteriorated almost immediately in the second term to the point that Mr. Steinberg was stripped of most of his staff and all of his duties.
"The first term, it was a wonderful relationship," Mr. Steinberg said. Then he said Mr. Schaefer's "palace guard" stepped in and froze him out.
In the case of Samuel Bogley, who was elected lieutenant governor with Harry Hughes 24 years ago, there was an immediate meltdown brought on by an emotional disagreement over abortion. Mr. Bogley played no real role in the administration and was dumped by Mr. Hughes after the first term.
Mr. Steinberg said a big part of the problem was that he and Mr. Schaefer had strictly a business relationship. "There was no personal bonding between us."
Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele say they will be able to withstand the pressures in part because they have a close personal relationship. Mr. Steinberg, who worked on the campaign and is now on the transition team, agrees.
"There is a very special social bonding between Ehrlich and Steele," he said. "It is a friendly, jovial kind of a relationship, the arms wrapping around each other, the hugging of each other.
"I can feel that the vibes are completely different. I think it is going to be a very smooth relationship," Mr. Steinberg said.
Mr. Steele said he and Mr. Ehrlich have a lot in common and "feel very, very comfortable with each other."
When he was called to Mr. Ehrlich's headquarters to be asked to join the ticket, Mr. Steele said much of the time was spent sitting around chatting on subjects such as football. "Just two guys, two friends," he said.
Mr. Ehrlich said he and Mr. Steele are "a natural team." He also said Mr. Steele will not have to worry about gubernatorial aides trying to sabotage the relationship.
"It won't happen. I don't put up with that," he said.
As the nation's only black state Republican chairman, Mr. Steele has worked tirelessly to try to cut into the overwhelming black support for Democratic candidates in Maryland. He notes that Democrats have never nominated a black statewide candidate and hopes his election will cause more black voters to examine their allegiance to Democrats and take a fresh look at the Republican Party.
While he relishes his groundbreaking role, Mr. Steele said he knows that "everything I say and do will be scrutinized."
"I have to jump higher. I have to run faster," he said. "There are people sitting there waiting for me to make a misstep."
Asked if he would like to run for governor in eight years, Mr. Steele replied: "Absolutely, if I'm qualified."
He said voters should look at what he does over the next four or eight years and judge his qualifications based on his accomplishments.
"Don't just elect me because I'm black," he said. "Elect me because I have a vision, leadership skills, can put together a strong administration and take Maryland to the next level of opportunity."


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