Ehrlich promised this week to veto the medical malpractice reform legislation produced by weary and perturbed lawmakers who had canceled vacations and caught planes to return to Annapolis for the extraordinary session he convened.
Some lawmakers, for their part, have vowed to attempt to override a veto.
The state's constitution was designed to give broad powers to the governor, House speaker and Senate president; agreement among the three is needed for progress. But the relations of Ehrlich, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller are critically fractured.
The timing of the current nadir, just two weeks before the start of the regular 90-day session, spells trouble for whatever legislative agenda Ehrlich decides to pursue during his third year in office.
"Never in the past three decades have I seen this kind of rancor in the two branches of government," said John N. Bambacus, a former Republican state senator and mayor of Frostburg who teaches political science at Frostburg State University.
"I really believe the citizens of the state, while they may in one way admire the governor's resolve, on the other hand are saying, 'Look, folks, we expect you to act on this issue.'"
There is little time for Ehrlich to repair his relations with the Assembly before members return for three months of work.
"He seems to be almost genetically incapable of compromise, which is astounding," said Del. Kumar P. Barve of Montgomery County, the House Democratic leader.
"He called us into town at a very inconvenient time, to solve a genuine problem, and he is not willing to give an inch," Barve said. "He has his eyes focused on his constituency base, instead of on the problem."
To Ehrlich, the condition was created by voters when they sent a governor of one party and a legislature controlled by another to the capital. Voters wanted change, he said, but the old guard is resisting.
"One person's dysfunctionality is another person's healthy philosophical debate," Ehrlich said. "There's a different philosophy. There is a different view of the world here. It's a view of the world that is asking people downstairs [in the Assembly] to do things they don't want to do."
Those divides rarely get traversed between the Ehrlich administration and the legislature.
Since Ehrlich's election in 2002, the governor has repeatedly failed to broker agreements that could lead to legislative approval of his priorities. His slot-machine gambling plan has failed in the House of Delegates for two years. Administration bills for tougher gun-crime prosecution, faith-based initiatives, witness intimidation sanctions and juvenile justice reforms all failed after what critics called half-hearted lobbying efforts.
Ehrlich has had a few legislative victories, including passage of a tax on sewer bills and septic bills to help pay for treatment plan upgrades, and higher vehicle registration fees to finance road construction.
The malpractice debate seemed an area particularly ripe for compromise. Doctors and hospitals wanted lower insurance bills and limits on lawsuits. Lawyers and victims wanted to make sure they received just compensation for legitimate medical errors. The Assembly thought it was passing a bill that balanced those needs.
"When you look at what the final product is, from a public policy thing, I think the compromise is meaningful tort reform that doesn't go overboard to gouge the consumer," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a moderate Democrat from Southern Maryland and chairman of the Finance Committee.
But Ehrlich's insistence that a 2 percent tax on HMO premiums could not be part of the solution to subsidize rising insurance bills means "he backs himself in the corner politically, and it becomes a contest of who is going to win, and it becomes very disillusioning to me," Middleton said.