On Election Day in 2002, Michael Richard stood in the rain outside Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville and urged everyone who would listen to vote for Bob Ehrlich.
The energy industry lobbyist had built rapport with the Republican congressman, traveling with him on a fact-finding trip to Las Vegas and volunteering on his gubernatorial campaign. When Ehrlich became Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation, he appointed Richard to a Cabinet-level post.
As director of the Maryland Energy Administration, a small agency that oversees about $3 million in grants and loans, Richard, 42, said he has found great success, most notably promoting energy-efficient products with an advertising campaign that starred the governor.
"This was a huge election," Richard said. "What was most important is that we get a strong, competent team in place to support the governor. That was the greatest concern."
But since Richard became director, half of the agency's 20-person staff has left. Past employees and other state workers said Richard forced out several of the agency's most qualified people and politicized the office in ways not intended when it was established 14 years ago.
"The dynamics in the office, the working relationships, everything was compromised," said Karen Galindo, a 12-year employee who resigned this month. She said Richard's priority seemed to be "getting Ehrlich's name and face out there."
When Ehrlich took over the governor's office two years ago, after 36 years of Democratic governors, it was widely assumed that state government would change. But in recent weeks, Ehrlich has faced sharp criticism from Democrats who say that he has replaced scores of longtime state employees, many in mid-level slots, with politically connected neophytes.
Democrats point to the policy and personnel makeover at the Maryland Energy Administration as an example of the broad changes occurring at a half-dozen state agencies since Ehrlich took office. To drive home that point, they voted Tuesday to slash Richard's salary from $103,000 to $83,000.
Ehrlich has described his personnel actions as measured, noting that the administration has fired only 284 of 7,000 employees who are classified as "at will" and said partisanship has never been a factor. Still, he said, he has a right to reshape state government.
"We won the election," the governor said. "I have the right to bring people in obviously who reflect my views, my platform, my philosophical orientation."
Richard was one such person. His résumé describes the advance work he did for the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and his participation in "Barnstorm for Reform," an effort to deliver votes for Bush in 2000.
Richard met the governor on Capitol Hill, when then-Rep. Ehrlich was a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Richard was a lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which promoted fact-finding tours for members. Richard took Ehrlich and his wife to Las Vegas in 1998, according to congressional records.
In June 2003, Richard took over the Maryland energy agency, which was created in 1991 to set policy and promote energy efficiency statewide.
Since his arrival, 10 employees have left. Many departed after clashes with Richard. The agency has lost five career professionals with technical, managerial or policy backgrounds in energy and years of experience in state government, according to their résumés.