ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly opened for business Wednesday, with a call for an end to the dissension that tainted last year’s session, but the convening came just a day after the 2004 session closed with a rebuff of the governor’s malpractice veto.
Dignitaries, family members, the press and Marylanders thronged the two houses for the first day of the 419th assembly session. But even the small points of tradition were met with controversy.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, was sworn in after a roll call vote notable for some GOP delegates naying his appointment. He won 93 of the 129 delegates, and Busch joked just for the record, if he had to vote, he would have voted green (for himself).
Delegate Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, held his 10-month-old son, George, through the opening session. McConkey said the baby talked through the meeting and was still laughing afterwards.
George’s father shared the same upbeat attitude.
“(Over the) next two weeks, things will calm down and we’ll all get to work,” McConkey said. “Time heals all wounds.”
In contrast, the outlook for the session from Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, wasn’t as positive.
“I am very apprehensive about it, I think we are going to have a very partisan and divisive session,” he said. “I think we need to work together in a spirit of bipartisanship and I don’t think you’ll see any of that this session. I think it is detrimental to the citizenry.”
Gov. Robert Ehrlich addressed the Senate asking members to embrace “power-sharing” between the parties but hinted that he would not run away from a fight.
“It’s a good thing to have a good, public, transparent debate,” he said. “It’s not always a good thing always to go along to get along and pretend you agree when you do not.”
Ehrlich didn’t stop by the House. Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, said it was the first time in his recollection that Ehrlich had not appeared to wish the House well.
When speaking with reporters about their absence from the House, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said, “Go ask the Speaker. He is the one who is supposed to extend the invitation. I can’t speak to an invitation I didn’t get. . . . We received one from the Senate. The governor was there, he spoke. . . . I think it was a ceremonial snafu.”
Busch Chief of Staff Tom Lewis said it is normal for a governor and lieutenant governor to attend, but they have skipped the opening in the past. Protocol, he said, has always had it that if the governor wants to come he calls and does so.
Lewis said seats were reserved for both dignitaries. He added that he didn’t think their absence was a big deal, but that (members) were surprised they weren’t there.
Shareese DeLeaver, the governor’s press secretary, said protocol calls for the governor to be invited.
“He was not invited,” she said. “It didn’t ruin his day or anything.”