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Dimmer Light on Democrats' Firings?

Loyalists to former Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are accusing Democratic lawmakers of applying a double standard to the firing practices of the past and present governors.

In recent weeks, Republicans have been circulating a list of a couple of dozen state workers, some of them active in GOP politics, who have been fired or demoted since Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's arrival in January.

Ehrlich's firings prompted a 14-month investigation by the Democrat-led General Assembly, which culminated in a lengthy report that found that the governor dispatched loyalists into state agencies to identify people to fire.

Anne Sunderland, a former public information officer at the Department of Aging under Ehrlich, said she expected to be shown the door after O'Malley won the governor's race.

"To the winner go the spoils," Sunderland said. "I have no problem with that, but when Governor Ehrlich did the same thing, everyone went ballistic."

Democrats argue that what O'Malley is doing is hardly the same thing. For starters, the scope of Ehrlich's firings was far greater: His aides put the count at 284.

And Ehrlich's methods attracted a lot more attention. During the first two years of his tenure, for example, a longtime aide, Joseph Steffen, worked in three state agencies, fostering a reputation as a hatchet man by placing a figurine of the Grim Reaper on his desk and telling co-workers that he had a "death list" of people marked for dismissal.

O'Malley aides said terminations in the new administration are being handled by Cabinet secretaries with no direct guidance from the governor's office.

"Governor O'Malley is committed to building a professional and competent state government for the people of Maryland and has recruited highly qualified, professional Cabinet secretaries," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  June 11, 2007; 6:16 AM ET
Categories:  John Wagner  
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