ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly opened its 417th session under rare circumstances — a new House speaker, the first black lieutenant governor- elect and the first Republican governor in 30 years set to take office.
“It was a great eight years for me, but coming back here was like coming back home,” said Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich, referring to his four terms in Congress and eight years in the House of Delegates.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature greeted Ehrlich and his Lt. Gov. Michael Steele with a standing ovation, as outgoing Gov. Parris N. Glendening looked on.
While the governor-elect’s presence on opening day was significant, the House of Delegates made history of its own when it elected its leadership.
The House of Delegates elected Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County, as speaker pro tem. She is the first African-American woman to hold the position.
Delegate Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, was elected speaker of the House replacing Casper Taylor, D-Allegheny. Taylor lost in the 2002 elections after 28 years in office.
Busch recognized Taylor in the session and described him as “a great leader and a great person.”
Facing a divided government for the first time since the 1960s, the legislators advocated cooperation in the upcoming session.
“The dynamics may have changed, but the goals remain the same,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, after he was unanimously re-elected to serve a 17th year as the body’s leader. Senate President Pro-Tem, Ida Ruben was also unanimously re-elected.
Ehrlich, who took the podium with Steele, said he looked forward to working with the governing body.
“I mean it when I say the president and I understand each other,” Ehrlich said of Miller.
Ehrlich and Lt. Gov.-elect Steele earned the loudest applause from the body when they entered mid-way and spoke about the need for cooperation this session.
The display of camraderie was also present in the House of Delegates where Ehrlich and Steele also appeared.
But underlying the friendliness were references to the Legislature’s challenges, including the looming budget deficit and the threat of cutbacks to state programs.
Delegate Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County, said she was concerned with finding a way to keep programs afloat.
“Where there is a federal mandate I think there ought to be federal money,” said U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, about the federal government’s role in solving state budget problems.
The Legislature will also debate whether installing slot machines at race tracks is a suitable cure for the state’s budget woes.
Ehrlich must also face his previous decision to lift the moratorium on executions despite a recently released study concluding that death penalty decisions have historically been racially biased.
Members were apprehensive about gaming.
“We want to make sure that we know what impact it will have on everyday citizens,” said Jones, D-Baltimore County.