Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is considering several old friends from his days in the General Assembly, many of them Democrats, as he assembles Maryland's first new GOP administration in 36 years, sources said yesterday.
Ehrlich is closely considering at least a half-dozen lawmakers who sat with him on the House Judiciary Committee during his tenure in Annapolis from 1987 to 1994. Most are Democrats; three are still in office and would have to give up their seats to join the Ehrlich administration.
Ehrlich's aides said that he has not made firm decisions about who will join his Cabinet and that he is unlikely to make hiring announcements for several days. He took time out to play golf yesterday, and he is scheduled to visit Princeton University -- his alma mater -- with friends and family this weekend, followed by a short vacation in Ocean City.
Ehrlich has not lined up people for specific jobs in his administration -- save for Steven L. Kreseski, his chief of staff -- but advisers said he has compiled a short list of people who could fill any number of positions.
At the top of the list: several former colleagues from the Judiciary Committee in the House of Delegates, where Ehrlich forged close personal relationships with members of both parties.
The chairman of the committee for two years of Ehrlich's tenure in Annapolis was Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat. Arnick is the leading contender to become Ehrlich's legislative liaison -- the governor's chief lobbyist.
Arnick, 68, was first elected to the House in 1966. He did not formally endorse Ehrlich during the campaign but has remained a behind-the-scenes supporter and sat in the front row of Ehrlich's post-Election Day news conference.
Ehrlich stood by Arnick in 1992 when the Democrat was nominated for a judgeship but ultimately was rejected after he was accused of making sexist remarks to two women who were lobbying him on a domestic-violence bill.
Del. Tony E. Fulton (D-Baltimore) is another former Judiciary Committee member getting a close look from Ehrlich, although probably not for a top Cabinet position because he is saddled with political baggage, sources said. In July 2000, he was acquitted of federal corruption charges that he conspired with a lobbyist to extort money from paint manufacturers.
Ehrlich's advisers said he also is pursuing some other Democrats with whom he served on the Judiciary Committee. Among them: former majority leader Kenneth H. Masters from Baltimore County, who endorsed Ehrlich during the campaign; and Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a liberal from Baltimore who lost in the September primary.
Like Fulton, Montague is an African American lawmaker who would help fulfill Ehrlich's promise to hire a diverse Cabinet. Also expected to land a job is Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV (D-Baltimore), a black legislator defeated in the primary.
Many current and former lawmakers under consideration are from Baltimore and the surrounding suburbs. In his post-election news conference, Ehrlich said he realized that he needs to reach out to other parts of the state, especially the Washington suburbs -- an area where he received tepid support from voters.
"There's an incredible Balkanization between the Baltimore suburbs and the Washington suburbs and the city of Baltimore," he said. "During the campaign, I had to defend the fact that I grew up outside Baltimore and that I'm a Baltimore guy. So it's important to show that we are going to be an administration for all of Maryland."
Ehrlich has to be careful about hiring Democrats who are still in office. Under Maryland law, their successors would be picked by party officials, who would be unlikely to choose replacements friendly to the governor in the halls of the State House.
Ehrlich enjoys some flexibility if he taps Republican legislators, whose replacements would be named by the GOP. One possibility: Del. Robert L. Flanagan (Howard), a close adviser to the Ehrlich campaign who helped develop his budget plan. He declined to comment on whether he'd consider joining the administration, saying, "I haven't even heard that rumor."
To get his agenda through the General Assembly, Ehrlich is banking on help from other personal friends who served with him on the Judiciary Committee, including Del. Kevin Kelly, a conservative Democrat from Allegany County.
Del. Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), the leading contender to become speaker of the House, is also an old Ehrlich pal from the committee.
Ehrlich's promise to include Democrats in his Cabinet has prompted several out-of-work members of the opposition party to float their names as prospects.
Aides to current House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) were trying to line up a new position for their boss after he was apparently defeated in a stunning upset Tuesday. Taylor refused to concede yesterday, even though he was behind by 71 votes after absentee ballots were counted.
Also looking for a job is Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, who lost in her party's primary in September. Advisers to the governor-elect, though, said there was little chance either Democrat would win a post. "These are not our friends," one leading Republican said.
Ehrlich supporters appear split over the possibility of hiring another Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel.
Neall is valued by some Ehrlich aides for his expertise on the state budget. But many Republicans are still bitter about Neall's decision to switch parties in 1999 and said there would be a GOP backlash if he joined the Ehrlich team.