It's good to be king, but life as the state's soon-to-be lieutenant governor isn't too shabby, either, as Michael S. Steele is finding out.
Steele, a Republican who will be sworn in as an elected official in January for the first time in his career, is already getting a preview of the perks of power. He tools around in a state-owned Ford Crown Victoria, with a state trooper at the wheel. He has an advance man who scouts out his destinations before his arrival. He has a new cell phone, the number of which is divulged only on a need-to-know basis.
He's even starting to get the royal treatment in places where he used to be just another face in the crowd.
When the staff of Jerry's Seafood -- a culinary institution in Lanham accustomed to serving political power brokers -- learned that Steele, who will be Maryland's first black lieutenant governor, was coming to lunch with a reporter last week, they quickly rolled out the red carpet. Reserved table. Complimentary crab puffs and shrimp. Handshakes all around.
Owner Jerry Gainey stood at the front door waiting. He motioned for the state trooper to drop off Steele right in front of the door.
"Mr. Lieutenant Governor! Welcome! I'm Jerry. Have you ever eaten here before?" Jerry exclaimed.
"Well, yeah," Steele replied, a little befuddled by all the attention. After all, he lives only 10 minutes away, in Largo. "I eat here all the time."
Jerry didn't miss a beat. Next time you come, he instructed, just have your staff call ahead. "We'll always make sure a table is ready," he vowed.
That's no small promise in a place that is usually overflowing and doesn't take reservations from normal people, save for the governor, the Prince George's County executive and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, another regular.
"Not bad," said Steele, as he tucked into Jerry's signature entree, "The Bomb," 10 ounces of jumbo lump crab meat. "Not bad at all."
Budget-watchers may have noticed that the plan put forward by Gov. Parris N. Glendening last week to leave Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "with a balanced budget" includes only $498 million worth of cuts, fund transfers and other maneuvers. Meanwhile, most fiscal analysts say sliding tax revenues have opened a gap of $590 million in this year's budget.
The difference? Glendening is assuming a rosier economic outlook thanks to news that state tax revenues exceeded expectations during the month of October. But officials at the comptroller's office say October's numbers have given them no cause to issue perkier projections so far.
"The governor is gambling on tax revenues," said Warren Deschenaux, the legislature's chief fiscal analyst.
Of course, it doesn't much matter to Glendening whether his numbers are on target. Any mess left behind will have to be cleaned up by lawmakers and Ehrlich. Glendening leaves office in January.
So far, lawmakers have been oddly quiet about the shortcomings of Glendening's proposal. Why? Because during a briefing last week at the governor's mansion, Glendening essentially offered them a chance to rewrite his plan to their liking, sources said.
Except for lodging an objection to the size of the bite Glendening proposed to take out of the state's rainy day fund, lawmakers attending the briefing couldn't come up with better options.
The latest must-have accessory around Annapolis? A state ID badge with a red band.
Journalists have yellow bands, and workers in the current governor's office wear green. But a red band designates a member of the Ehrlich transition team -- and therefore someone who may soon have a lot of power over everything from the state budget to state jobs.
"People see my badge and they're immediately much nicer to me," said Shareese DeLeaver, a spokesperson for Ehrlich's campaign who expects to hold a similar job in his administration.
The Maryland Republican Party has scheduled its annual convention for Dec. 7 in Annapolis. Montgomery County businessman John Kane is expected to be officially elected chairman, replacing Steele in the post.
Ehrlich is scheduled to speak to his party at 10 a.m. for the first time since winning the governor's mansion, Kane said.