Throughout the campaign for governor, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) never missed a chance to criticize Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) for her ties to Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and his administration, which, Ehrlich argued, had left the state swimming in a sea of red ink.
But now that Ehrlich has won, it seems that neither Glendening nor the budget situation is so terrible after all.
In a post-election news conference, Ehrlich backed off his campaign demands for a special session of the General Assembly to resolve a projected shortfall of more than $1.7 billion in the state budget over two years. Ehrlich said he became convinced the situation was not quite so dire after having a friendly telephone chat with Glendening, who assured him that this year's deficit could be resolved "fairly easily," in Glendening's words.
And what a chat it was. Glendening went on to congratulate Ehrlich on "a vigorous campaign." He offered the governor-elect any help he needs to set up shop in Annapolis and promised a smooth and professional transition.
Glendening, who has a 3-month-old daughter, even swapped stories with Ehrlich about politics and kids, noting that his older son, Raymond, was about the same age as Ehrlich's son, Drew, 3, when Glendening entered politics.
And by the way, Glendening told Ehrlich, his mother-in-law had painted a picture of Winnie the Pooh on the wall of one the bedrooms in the governor's mansion. Would Ehrlich like him to leave it or restore the wall "to its original condition?"
Glendening said Ehrlich responded, "Drew likes bears. We'll let Drew decide."
Asked about the chummy conversation, Ehrlich said he was shocked by Glendening's solicitous demeanor. Glendening "was a demon through my whole eight years in Congress," Ehrlich said. But on the phone, "he started talking about how cute Drew looked. I'm like, 'Who am I talking to?' "
Hours later, Ehrlich stood at the front of a conference room full of TV cameras in Baltimore and called Glendening "a real class act."
Selective Amnesia on Deficit?
Ehrlich's change of heart on the budget deficit hasn't escaped the notice of Townsend and her campaign aides, who believe the deficit and Glendening's inaction cost her the race.
For months, Ehrlich the candidate harped on the disastrous condition of the state's fiscal affairs. Now Ehrlich the governor-elect "is holding the hand grenade and suddenly it's not a concern," Townsend campaign spokesman Peter Hamm joked glumly.
"But I guess that's the nature of winning," Hamm said.
He Knows of What He Speaks
Most surreal moment on the campaign trail: Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, clad in an Ehrlich T-shirt, standing outside Leisure World in Montgomery County and urging passersby to vote for Ehrlich to "end the culture of corruption in Annapolis."
Bereano, a huge supporter of Ehrlich's candidacy, was convicted of defrauding clients in 1994 and disbarred in 2000. He has since returned to the State House and regained his position as one of the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis.
Two big losers in the wake of the election:
1. Western Maryland.
While gun groups and Republicans were more than ready to bid adieu to House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), his loss is likely to deal a devastating blow to the region, which he helped to stock with every sort of economic development tool. The chances that the state will ever again sink $2 million into an adventure sports center in Garrett County now seem very remote.
2. The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
Love 'em or hate 'em, two key members of the Senate's hard-working budget committee won't be back next year. The committee will have to start fresh without Chairman Barbara A. Hoffman (D-Baltimore), who lost in September's primary, and Sen. Robert R. Neall (D), who was crushed by a Republican wave in Anne Arundel County, despite his nearly universally admired budget skills.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) has appointed Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) to take command of the powerful committee.