A merry band of Howard County Republicans traveled by charter bus to Annapolis yesterday to celebrate an oddity in the Maryland General Assembly: a county with a Republican-majority delegation.
As a result of November's elections, Howard's nine-member legislative delegation has six Republicans, doubling the number from the previous four-year term.
Only one of Maryland's other 22 counties, Garrett, which has one GOP senator and one delegate, has a Republican majority.
"I've been waiting 35 years for this," said Peg Browning, a 35-year resident of Ellicott City.
"Hopefully, they will help bring government under control, spending under control," added Browning's seatmate, Lillian Mulherin.
After arriving in Annapolis for the opening day of the 1991 session, most of the Republican supporters from Howard County stood in the crowded hallway outside the legislative chambers to watch the swearing-in on closed-circuit television.
They then headed for the Republican offices to enjoy a couple of bottles of champagne and platters of cold cuts and baked goods.
The visitors felt about as much at home as some of Howard County's new Republican legislators.
Del. Martin Madden, for instance, was still figuring out how to get a key to his office. Freshman Del. John S. Morgan was surprised to learn that the office of freshman Sen. Christopher J. McCabe came with a refrigerator-equipped meeting room, while his hardly had room to hold himself and an aide.
"Maybe I should run for the Senate," Morgan said.
Del. Robert Kittleman, dean of the county's Republican delegation and the House minority whip, said he hopes the new faces will embolden state Republicans to increase their visibility in challenging the Democratic leadership.
Republicans increased their presence in the 47-member Senate from seven to nine and in the 141-member House of Delegates from 16 to 25.
"I'd like to see us take a lot more Republican positions and make more statements as a party," he said.
But playing too partisan a role could backfire for the GOP, warned Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel). "Labeling something Republican can be the kiss of death," said Cade, referring to how many more Democratic legislators there are.
The bus riders who traveled to Annapolis yesterday from Howard County represented a cross section of the demographic changes in the county that helped propel Republicans to victory.
Many of the riders were longtime party activists but some were county newcomers such as Pat Watson and Elizabeth Connelly, who have each lived in Columbia about three years.
The influx of new Republican voters is one reason GOP registration efforts in Howard closed the ratio of Democrats to Republicans to about 1.4 to 1 last year. Statewide, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is about 2.2 to 1, down from nearly 3 to 1 in October 1984.
There were even a few Democrats on the bus, most of them related to Republican Del. Robert Flanagan, who helped pay the $300 cost of the bus.
"We represent the people who vote Republican because they like the candidate," said Flanagan's wife, Diana, a Democrat.