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Diluted Bills Anger Republicans

When a special legislative committee wrapped up an 14-month investigation last fall into then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich's hiring and firing practices, a special counsel decided no pursue no criminal charges. Instead lawmakers said they would rely on legislation to fix what was wrong with the state's personnel process.

Yesterday, the state Senate gave final approval to two of those bills. But Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), who helped lead the legislative probe and sponsored the bills, acknowledged they were changed--and weakened-- at the request of now Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration.

The legislation that passed yesterday was designed to provide government efficiency and does so, Middleton said.

"It's not a great, big, massive bill. It's fine-tuning of our personnel system," he said.

Some Republicans said the watered-down legislation proved that the investigation was a waste of time and money.

"The bills do virtually nothing. . . . It was a political witch hunt with no substance," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), the House minority leader. "They were trying to embarrass the Ehrlich administration, and in the end, no substantive changes were made in the law. It was a sham, and everybody knows it."

In early 2005, Ehrlich fired a longtime political operative for boasting about a whisper campaign against Ehrlich's chief political rival, O'Malley, who was then the mayor of Baltimore.

During the first two years of Ehrlich's tenure, the operative, Joseph Steffen, worked in three state agencies. He placed a figurine of the Grim Reaper on his desk, referred to himself as the "Prince of Darkness" and told co-workers that he had a "death list" of people who were marked for dismissal.

Ehrlich administration officials played down Steffen's role and said turnover in state government was a natural byproduct of the 2002 election, which put a Republican in the governor's office for the first time in a generation.

Ovetta Wiggins

By Phyllis Jordan  |  March 2, 2007; 10:38 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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