- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. refused to answer questions yesterday about bias among Democrats on a special committee investigating the Ehrlich administration’s firing of state workers.

Mr. Miller, a Democrat representing Calvert and Prince George’s counties, did not return calls. A reporter requesting an interview at Mr. Miller’s State House office was turned away by his secretary on several occasions before Mr. Miller left for the day through a basement exit.

Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane yesterday called for removing the two Democrats from the 12-member committee, which is expected to begin investigating the Republican governor later this summer or this fall.

“Leaving them on the commission only proves that … it is only a kangaroo court that will go through a partisan Kabuki dance and ultimately prove nothing,” Mr. Kane said. “They should be removed immediately.”

Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, the two Democrats whom Mr. Miller appointed to the Special Committee on State Employee Rights and Protections, say they have already decided Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration acted illegally, The Washington Times reported yesterday.

“The stuff the Ehrlich administration has done is illegal,” said Mr. Frosh, Montgomery County Democrat.

Mrs. Hollinger, Baltimore County Democrat, said some of the firings were “against the law.”

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, co-chairman of the special committee, opposes removing the lawmakers, regardless of their convictions going into the investigation — the General Assembly’s first of somebody outside the legislature in more than 25 years.

“It will probably make for a good review, having people who will not all think alike,” said Mr. Middleton, Charles County Democrat. “I’m certainly not going in there with any preconceived notions.”

He also said Mr. Frosh and Mrs. Hollinger do not deserve to be removed any more than the committee’s Republican members, who presumably support the Republican governor.

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican and a member of the special committee, has said he will keep Republicans off the committee if the Democrats break their promise to conduct a “fair and bipartisan” investigation.

The comments by Mr. Frosh and Mrs. Hollinger have not helped Democrats, who say the investigation is not a “witch hunt.”

Republican lawmakers have said the investigation was tainted from its inception because the Democrat-controlled General Assembly excluded them from selecting members to serve on the committee, composed of four Democrats and two Republicans each from the House and the Senate.

Critics of the investigation say it attempts to embarrass Mr. Ehrlich. They also say Democrats, who previously had a stronghold on the Maryland governorship, had no problem with their administrations giving “at-will” state jobs to party supporters.

“The Democrats come out and say they need this [investigation] to reform the system, but they are the ones who created the system,” Mr. Kane said. “Governor Ehrlich and Lieutenant Governor [Michael S.] Steele are only managing the government they were given by the people of Maryland.”

The special committee still lacks most of its House members.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, so far has appointed just two members, Delegate Adrienne A. Jones, Baltimore County Democrat and the committee’s other co-chairman, and House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, Western Maryland Republican.

The investigation follows accusations that longtime Ehrlich aide Joseph F. Steffen Jr. secretly worked at identifying state employees to be fired for insufficient loyalty to the administration.

Mrs. Hollinger and Mr. Frosh also said the state’s decision to settle a lawsuit by Baltimore County Council member Vincent J. Gardina, who claimed he was fired from his state job because of his party affiliation, proves the administration acted illegally.

However, the settlement includes a “no admissions of liability” clause, said Kevin J. Enright, a spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

Said Mr. Middleton: “That whole thing [with Mr. Gardina], that’s happened and that’s already been dealt with.”

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