Julia, Annapolis: If Gov. [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] were to get re-elected, what, in your opinion, could (or should) he do different to avoid another 4 years of head-butting with the General Assembly? Thank you.

Nitkin: Judging from the campaign so far, if Ehrlich is re-elected, he will push for many of the same issues that he has over the past four years -- including bringing slot machines to Maryland. He is also campaigning on a theme that the state is heading in the right direction, and that the Democrat-controlled Assembly has overreached, is out of control and has encroached on his power.

If re-elected, he is likely to assert -- with some justification -- that he has a mandate from the people for his ideas and policies. So if and when the Assembly kills, alters or otherwise rejects them, Ehrlich will continue to have a bully pulpit to argue that the Assembly is wrong.

Democratic leaders would say that Ehrlich, in a second term, should learn to negotiate more to get his ideas through. But if he wins re-election, there would be little reason to negotiate; he would most likely argue, "This is what the people want."

Carolyn Hicks, Joppa: How about doing an in-depth report about the Democrats who are running in the 7th Legislative District. This includes Harford and Baltimore counties. We need info about these people. Thanks.

Nitkin: We are in the process of preparing news articles for the legislative primary contests in our readership area. I can't promise that they will be in-depth enough for your liking. With highly competitive primary contests for U.S. Senate, 3rd District in Congress, comptroller and attorney general, we've got many good stories on our hands that are consuming a lot of staff time.

Erin, Baltimore: Hi David. Do you think that Gov. Ehrlich's strategy to turn the Baltimore City school system into a political weapon against [Mayor Martin] O'Malley has any potential to backfire? I know that those who already support O'Malley and/or live in the city are extremely turned off by Ehrlich's tactics. As a city resident who cares very much about the fate of the schools, I am really tired of this. But what about voters who live in other parts of the state who have other worries, like employment, health care and the environment? Or are his one-track attacks on city schools limited to the Baltimore media market?

Nitkin: City schools are a high-profile enough issue that voters in other parts of the state are interested and want to hear what is going on. State tax dollars go into schools, and state lawmakers from other parts of Maryland have to vote on city school finances and other related matters. I haven't yet seen any indication that the governor's campaign message on city schools is backfiring.

Bill Jackson, Savage: David, do you believe that [Lt. Gov.] Michael [S.] Steele will win the Republican nomination even though there are many white [voters] who will not vote for a black [candidate]? We have seen this in black areas where blacks won't vote for whites, and I am curious about your opinion. Is Michael Steele running his new commercial because there may be a primary opponent closing ranks in a low turnout election?

Nitkin: I think it's virtually certain that Steele will be the Republican nominee. Six Republicans will be on the ballot, and with apologies to Daniel "The Wig Man" Vovak, Corrogan R. Vaughn and others, no one will come close. In our July poll, in a hypothetical match-up between Steele, a Republican, and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, Steele got 39 percent of the white vote, with Cardin getting 44 percent and 16 percent undecided. In a match-up with former NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume, Steele got 48 percent of the white vote, with Mfume getting 33 percent and 17 percent undecided.

Don, Columbia: Did Kweisi Mfume resign his position as president of the NAACP of his own accord? Or was he asked to step aside? If he was asked to leave, what were the reasons?

Nitkin: To read our coverage of Mfume's departure from the NAACP, see: For more coverage of Mfume's departure and the NAACP, click here.

Evangeline Diggs, Baltimore: What happened to the Public Service Commission? I have not heard anything about them. Did they get fired?

Nitkin: The Maryland Court of Appeals has yet to issue its decision on whether the General Assembly acted legally when it passed a law that in part fired the current members of the PSC and replaced them with members pre-selected by the General Assembly. As of now, four of the five members of the current PSC remain on the job; one resigned earlier this year and has not been replaced.

Davis, Columbia: Questions about the select committee to investigate the personnel practices -- I just need some clarification on this issue. I moved from and used to work for a state agency in Connecticut. It was pretty much common practice that every time the state house changed parties, there were fairly deep and comprehensive changes from the top down to middle management. With no change in party for such a long time, I can see how this came as a shock here in Maryland. What I want to know, though, what does the law say about it?

If Ehrlich did everything that the "committee" (witch hunt) says, was it against the law?

Plus, what is the price tag to taxpayers every time one of these "select" committees is convened?

If the Democrats have an issue [with] the personnel rules, I would much rather them spend the money fixing the laws that have been in place for years than investigating what the governor did (if it was legal).

Nitkin: The select legislative committee investigating the governor's hiring and firing practices will likely issue a final report that may address the issue of whether any laws were broken. There have been no examples of the administration breaking civil service rules and firing people who have civil service protection. What remains an open question is whether low-level employees were replaced because of their party affiliation -- which the Supreme Court has said is illegal. There has been mixed testimony about this, with some administration staffers saying that political affiliation was never an issue, and Joseph F. Steffen, the longtime Ehrlich aide commonly known as the "Prince of Darkness," acknowledging that party affiliation was a factor in personnel decisions.

The price tag for the investigation is largely for the work of the committee's counsel, Ward Coe. I haven't yet seen how many hours he has put in, and how much he has been paid. Lawmakers and committee staffers get paid the same amount, regardless of whether the committee meets or is disbanded.