Don't mess with the pothole money.
Senate Democrats are hoping to teach one Cabinet secretary that lesson -- the hard way.
Senators gave preliminary approval, with a vote of 27-20, to a bill yesterday that would require any second-term governor to get the Senate's blessing for any Cabinet secretaries he wants to carry over.
Republicans who balked at Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's proposal say that it's clearly intended to stick it to a particular governor and a particular Cabinet secretary. That's Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, who are being accused by municipal leaders across the state -- many of them Democrats -- of withholding nearly $30 million meant for local road projects.
"It's partisanship raising its ugly head," declared Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, an Eastern Shore Republican and head of the Senate GOP caucus. "People are concerned this governor could be re-elected, and it's very mean-spirited."
Senate chambers erupted in snickers and snorts when Sen. Joan Carter Conway a Baltimore Democrat, said, "Actually, I think the bill before us is not a partisan bill."
"With all due respect to the last speaker," Stoltzfus said, "We all know where this is going. ... We've seen the headline in the newspaper saying, 'We're going to get this particular secretary.'"
Two weeks ago, Miller told the Gazette that if Ehrlich were re-elected, the transportation secretary would be job-hunting.
"He could never get confirmed by the Senate again ... not one Democratic senator would vote for him," the paper quoted Miller saying.
There was no reason Flanagan would have to come back before the Senate. State law doesn't require secretaries to go through the confirmation process twice.
But Miller also told the Gazette, "If that's not the rule now, it will be the rule next year."
Lo and behold, Senate Bill 1075.
"Why now?" asked Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, adding that she doesn't believe the Senate has ever done this before.
"There's always a first time," Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Baltimore County Democrat, replied. "Some of us have new ideas."
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver scoffed at the Senate's move.
"Senate President Miller already rejected a well-qualified woman Cabinet nominee in Lynn Buhl, and now he's further infringing on executive privilege by attempting to tailor the governor's Cabinet to his liking," DeLeaver said.
"But on a positive note, it's nice to hear that the senator is resigned to the governor's re-election."
Municipalities across the state hold Flanagan personally responsible for their potholes, saying the secretary reneged on repair money he promised them. Flanagan insists the $28.5 million in local highway grants isn't available, but officials and analysts say firstname.lastname@example.org