After four years doing battle with outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), jubilant Democrats basked in their return to power in Annapolis yesterday with a lovefest on the eve of the General Assembly session.
"Think of the collegiality in this room!" party Chairman Terry Lierman beamed to the 150 activists and lawmakers gathered for the party's annual legislative luncheon.
"It's a little different from last year, don't you think?" Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith asked the crowd dining on tuna salad and vanilla layer cake at Governor Calvert House. "In fact, it's a lot different from last year!"
Forgive the Democrats for crowing little over their complete domination of state politics. There were kudos for Lierman's tireless party-building in preparation for the November election, and a recognition of the ascension of two generations of leaders -- Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley to the governor's mansion and Rep. Steny Hoyer, to House Majority Leader.
The legislature's top leaders, House Speaker Michael E. Busch(D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike MillerJr. (D-Calvert) were received with wild applause.
O'Malley, who will be sworn in next Wednesday, told legislative leaders that he looks forward to hearing their "Four years or more of bottled-up ideas" on expanding health care to Marylanders. He acknowledged that just because one-party rule is returning to the state capitol, Democrats are bound to disagree. "Compromise is not a dirty word," he said.
Everyone from Attorney General-elect Doug Gansler to Ike Leggett, the new Montgomery County Executive, discussed their priorities for the General Assembly session that opens today -- from the environment to funding for road projects.
But talk of policy was overshadowed by politics now that the Ehlrich era has ended.
" I said I would declare Nov.6, 2006 Independence Day,'' Miller said. "You folks made it that way." In a nod to his planned retirement at the end of this term, he said he would be back at the luncheon in four years "as a lay person... We're gonna be singing, "Happy Days are here again!'"
The road from unity to governance, of course, it bound to be bumpier.
"We're gonna roll up our sleeves on policy," Lt. Gov-elect Anthony Brown pledged, reminding lawmakers that they won't have to worry about overriding Ehrlich's vetoes.
Whether the love fest will continue will be the one of the highlights of General Assembly 2007. Stay tuned.
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