ANNAPOLIS – Maryland Wednesday inaugurated its first Republican governor in more than three decades and its first statewide elected black official, then buckled up for the next four years of what is likely to be a rough fiscal road.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele took their oaths in the Senate chamber before moving outside, to repeat them publicly on the State House steps.
Ehrlich loosely followed his scripted speech, but conspicuously left out a complimentary reference to former Gov. Parris N. Glendening included in printed copies of the speech.
The transcript of the speech on the governor’s Web site also left out a reference to Glendening.
“The reason was because governor Glendening didn’t attend the ceremony,” said Shareese DeLeaver, Ehrlich’s spokeswoman. “When we learned last night, we amended the speech.”
Ehrlich thanked three other former governors who attended the inauguration.
Ehrlich set five priorities for the state: increase public safety, improve education, restructure state spending, better social services and empower faith- based organizations.
The state budget crisis tops that list, with the release of his budget plan Friday. The state faces a $1.2 billion deficit in the next fiscal year and one of Ehrlich’s key fixes, revenue from legalized slot machines, faces a difficult course in the Democratic General Assembly.
“With regard to the budget, we’re going to ask government to do what thousands of Maryland families do every day: live within its means,” Ehrlich said. “We should not be fearful of change, of reform, of better ideas, particularly where taxpayer dollars are concerned.”
In a congratulatory letter to Ehrlich, President George W. Bush mirrored some of the governor’s concerns.
“My administration looks forward to working with you,” read Ken Mehlman, Bush’s deputy assistant, who attended on the president’s behalf. Mehlman highlighted key issues, including homeland defense, education, and greater opportunity for Americans.
Ehrlich also thanked his wife, Kendel; son, Drew; and parents, Bob Sr. and Nancy, for their support.
“I always heard . . . `Regardless of what path you decide, we will be there for you unconditionally,'” Ehrlich said, bringing his parents to the podium to loud applause from the crowd. “That’s the definition of unconditional love.”
Former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who lost the governor’s race to Ehrlich in November, attended the ceremony.
“It showed a lot of integrity on the part of the (former) lieutenant governor to be here,” said Marc Steiner, who emceed the event. Steiner, who is host of a Baltimore political talk show, said Townsend “represents the integrity of the last eight years.”
New Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, was honored by the significance of his being the first African-American sworn in to statewide office on civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
“Today certainly is a very proud day for Maryland in terms of Lt. Gov. Mike Steele being sworn in,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens, who also spoke at the inauguration. “I felt a little, tiny piece of that history by being the first woman from another party to be asked to speak at an inauguration.”
Former governor and current Comptroller William Donald Schaefer introduced the new governor to the crowd and promised his cooperation — for six months, at least.
“I want Bob Ehrlich to succeed,” Schaefer said. “I promise to make the Board of Public Works meetings uneventful.”
Schaefer frequently clashed with Glendening at public works meetings. The governor, comptroller and treasurer comprise the three-member executive board.
Words, as lawmakers pointed out, do not a governor make. It’s Ehrlich’s deeds they will scrutinize.
“On a ceremonial day like today, a lot of nice words are spoken,” said Delegate Carol Petzold, D-Montgomery, vice chairwoman of the Montgomery County Delegation. “It’s the actions later on that you’re looking for.”
Others were less guarded about the new governor.
“Inaugural speeches are almost done from a boilerplate,” said House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery. “But they were very generous to Kathleen (Kennedy Townsend).”
Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation congratulated the new governor.
“I thought it was a good speech, he talked about bringing Marylanders together to work together on things that are important to people in Maryland,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, a former state senator. “There will obviously be differences of opinion on how we approach some of these issues, but I think there’s a lot of good faith on all sides trying to work out problems.”
U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, said working together is key for the new governor.
“The election’s over,” said Ruppersberger, who won Ehrlich’s old congressional seat in November. “We’ve now got to work together for what’s going to help our citizens on a local, state and federal level.”
Beyond the pomp and circumstance, Ehrlich pointed to the people he will now lead.
“For us, for us, every day is a taxpayer day, every dollar is a taxpayer dollar, every minute is a taxpayer minute,” he said. “There will be honest disagreements where spending priorities are concerned, but good and honest and hardworking people can overcome their differences in the best interests of the people.”
Those taxpayers, who’d come to see the ceremony and following parade were willing to give Ehrlich a chance to prove himself.
“I’m just glad to see Maryland have a Republican governor,” said Ted Daniecki of Harford County, who came to Annapolis with his dog, Kaleb. “Someone who sees my point of view.”
Even Democrats were looking at Ehrlich with optimism.
“I guess the state is due for a change,” said Richard Harris of Baltimore, a Democrat. “Change is good.”
Capital News Service writers Eric J.S. Townsend and Kristin Sette contributed to this report. – 30 – CNS-1-15-03