- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

ANNAPOLIS Two days before being sworn into office, Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. treated members of the heavily Democratic state legislature to lunch as both vowed again to cooperate despite their party differences.
Getting along with the Democratic-controlled Maryland Senate and House of Delegates will be crucial to the success of the state's first Republican governor in more than three decades. Now that his contentious campaign with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is in the past, Democratic lawmakers also are trying to build bridges with the man they must work with for four years.
"The campaign is over, the process of governing is here," Senate Majority Leader Nathaniel McFadden, Baltimore Democrat, told about 150 persons dining on roasted chicken at Loews Annapolis Hotel a crowd that included lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and some of their spouses.
Mr. Ehrlich told the lawmakers he would take steps to improve bipartisanship in Annapolis, saying he remembered it from his eight years as a state delegate as a place where one could argue the issues by day and then meet for dinner at night.
Mr. Ehrlich also urged the lawmakers to contact his administration if they have a disagreement rather than going to the media.
"If you have a point to make, please make it directly to us," he said.
Using funds raised for the inauguration, Mr. Ehrlich gave the lawmakers cuff links and pins bearing the Maryland state seal and tins of chocolate chip cookies. The gathering even had its jovial moments, as Mr. McFadden likened the partnership of Mr. Ehrlich and Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele to some heroic crime-fighters.
"We look forward to working with Batman and Robin as we turn Gotham around," Mr. McFadden said.
Mr. Steele's response drew a hearty laugh: "I'd like to begin by saying, 'Holy state budget, Batman. Needless to say, I'll get the car and meet you in front of the state capitol.'."
The projected $1.3 billion shortfall in next year's state budget is expected to be the overriding issue in this year's meeting of the General Assembly, which began Wednesday and ends in early April.
The governor-elect's staff has been tight-lipped about his funding priorities for the budget, which is expected to be released Friday. Before the lunch, Mr. Ehrlich gave a vague preview of one aspect, saying that drug use has such an effect on other wide-ranging areas including education, juvenile justice, law enforcement and mental health that it's driving the budgetary process.


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