The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bipartisanship is the buzzword as Maryland legislators return to Annapolis

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, right, and outgoing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) walk the center aisle as they arrive together for the swearing-in ceremony for the 141 members of the House of Delegates on Wednesday in Annapolis. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

It seemed like everyone in Annapolis was talking about bipartisanship on Wednesday.

Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) said he was eager to fix the state's problems with help from "both sides of the aisle." Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) declared his chamber "a place of camaraderie." U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) offered this snappy motto: "Partnership, not partisanship."

And outgoing Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), whose unexpected loss to Hogan in November stunned the Democratic establishment, escorted the governor-elect around the State House in a show of unity.

“On every issue that will be confronted, not just in the next 90 days but in the years ahead, there is the opportunity to find consensus and common ground,” Brown said.

Hogan’s victory tapped into widespread frustration in Maryland over tax increases and the stagnant economy — and it set the tone for the Maryland General Assembly’s 2015 session, which started Wednesday afternoon and will run for 90 days.

The Republican’s strong margins across the state give the Democrat-dominated legislature an incentive to take his priorities seriously. But Democrats who hold the majority in both chambers also have the power to prevent Hogan from getting much done.

With a week to go before Hogan’s inauguration, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seemed more than happy to just get along.

All 141 members of the House of Delegates and 47 members of the Senate were sworn in to four-year terms Wednesday. The two chambers reelected their longtime leaders, Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).

“I promise that we’re going to work together — across the aisle, coming together and staying together and working together,” said Miller, the country’s longest-serving state senate president. “We have a common bond: We love our state. We love our constituents. And that love will bring us together.”

But this wouldn’t be politics without a little tension, so Miller took a shot at Hogan’s frequent unflattering assessments of how the state has fared under outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

“There are people here who say this is an age of doom and gloom. That’s insanity,” Miller said in his speech. “Our country is the greatest economic engine the world has ever seen.”

There were other partisan rumblings as well — on an afternoon of receptions and parties — and some discussion of just how long the "Kumbaya" atmosphere might hang over the State House.

In the House chamber, Busch ticked off specific issues lawmakers will need to address: strengthening education and the health-care system, protecting Chesapeake Bay and building a vibrant economy.

He didn’t specifically mention the Purple Line, a light-rail system that would run in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and that has been regarded skeptically by Hogan. But he suggested that the congested roads in Montgomery need to be addressed.

“Today is a day of celebration,” Busch said. “Tomorrow we go to work in earnest.”

Maryland's last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., took office promising the same sort of bipartisan goodwill that was on display Wednesday. He talked of charming powerful Democratic lawmakers on the basketball court or over pizza and beer at the governor's mansion.

Even before taking office, however, Ehrlich was sharply at odds with some Democratic leaders on a number of issues, including proposals to raise taxes and to legalize slot machines. Things went downhill from there.

This time, Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Harford) said, Democrats and Republicans alike seem to believe that their constituents want them to find a way to work together.

“We’re going to have differences on some stuff, but you’re not going to have these huge battles,” Jennings said. He was holding his young son, who was dressed in a suit and a light-green tie that matched his dad’s.

Jennings added: "I believe a lot of members have seen and felt that their constituency gave them a mandate for this session and for this term: Enough with the tax increases. Let's cut it back some."

It won't be easy. Hogan's budget proposal is due at the end of next week, and it must deal with an inherited $750 million shortfall that will make rolling back taxes difficult, at least in the short run.

Fights could break out over budget cuts, environmental regulation, charter school expansion or proposed rail projects.

“Things will get — how should I say — a bit interesting,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s). “I think people will be mature enough to put partisan politics aside. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be fierce debate. What we’re counting on is that the fierce debate will get us to the same place.”

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) said that it was easy to talk about working together because it still wasn’t clear what Hogan wants to do, especially when it comes to cutting the budget.

"It's so mysterious," Madaleno said. "We're . . . moving into an administration of someone who has never held office before. So when people ask me, 'Oh, what is he going to do about X or Y?' All I can say is, 'He has no record, so I don't know.' "