Call them Ehrlich's Howard mafia.
All the prominent Republicans from Howard County who provided important support and filled top positions in outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration are preparing for a new phase of their lives.
As Maryland's second-smallest county geographically, Howard was well-represented during Ehlrich's term.
Howard residents ran or are running the Department of Transportation, the Office of Homeland Security, the Department of Human Resources, the Maryland Transportation Authority, the Department of General Services and the Critical Area Commission.
In addition, state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, who lost her bid for re-election, was an important vote, both for Ehrlich and in giving county Republicans veto power over local legislation. Because two of the three county senators were Republican, they controlled the fate of any local bill.
Now all are facing likely imminent unemployment as Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley waits to be sworn in and to install his team in Annapolis, but all have earned valuable experience running Maryland's varied agencies.
Trent Kittleman, Maryland Transportation Authority director, said she hopes to keep her job.
Although she won election to the Howard County Republican State Central Committee, her state job is not political, and the agency is amid some major projects that she would like to continue.
"I told the transition team I would be very happy to stay in the job," she said. "The authority is in the midst of a very large growth spurt."
During Kittleman's two years as director, the authority has experienced a 450 percent increase in its capital program, including new lanes planned for Interstate 95 north of Baltimore, financing the Inter-county Connector in Montgomery County and planning for toll-road bridge renovations.
Kittleman's job is controlled by a governing board, not directly by the governor, she said, but "if the governor [O'Malley] has someone he wants to put in here immediately, that's certainly fine."
Christopher J. McCabe, human resources secretary and a former Howard state senator, expects to leave office Jan. 17, when O'Malley takes over. He is perhaps most certain about his future.
"I've dedicated my professional career to some form of service to the public, and I intend to continue doing so," McCabe said. "That's where my interests are."
He is looking to lead a national nonprofit human-services agency in Washington, he said, and he is not planning on leaving Howard County, though his political career might be over.
"I think that's done," he said.
He's upbeat, though.
"When one door closes, another opens up," he said.
Dennis and Sandra Schrader are both facing big changes, but Dennis said the couple are in no rush to find something new. He is director of Homeland Security.
They have both worked hard and saved their money, he said. "We knew going in when you're working in a political lifestyle, you know there's a risk. We've had good times and bad times."
The Schraders always have been a team, with her helping him win election to the Howard County Council in 1994 and then run unsuccessfully for county executive in 1998. She served as a legislative aide to former state Sen. Martin G. Madden and was appointed to his job when he resigned. She won a full term in 2002, when Dennis Schrader was chosen to head the Office of Homeland Security.
"We're not really sure what we want to do," he said, adding that he was speaking for him and his wife, who did not return a reporter's phone calls.
"We have one child in college. It's really a time for reflection."
The election defeats are tough, he said, but he takes an optimistic view.
"I don't see these things as setbacks," he said. "They're opportunities."
Madden, a moderate Republican who has a private insurance brokerage but who served as director of the state's Critical Area Commission under Ehrlich, also sounded philosophical.
"The honor of my lifetime was serving the state Senate," he said. "Governor Ehrlich has matched that honor with the ability to work on the executive side of government."
Madden, like Dennis Schrader, is still running his agency and preparing for the transition to a new administration.
Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, a former delegate, has been perhaps the most public of Ehrlich's Howard recruits.
An acerbic minority party member for years in the House of Delegates, Flanagan suddenly became the man in charge of the Department of Transportation, with authority over buses, trains, planes and highways.
"Right now, I'm developing options," he said, without being specific. "I certainly am very much wedded to Howard County and to Maryland."
He said he is most proud of his efforts pushing the much-discussed Inter-County Connector highway, planned as a link between Montgomery and Prince George's counties, toward construction, enlarging Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and improving U.S. 29 in his home county.
He, too, sees no return to local politics.
Carol Arscott, a former county GOP chairwoman who is now assistant secretary of transportation for government affairs and communications, said she is headed to Sarasota, Fla., for most of the winter and speculated that she might do contractual work when she returns.
"I think we left the place better than we found it," she said about her government experience, but said she has had enough.
"I've got to take a break from local politics," she said. "It's so hard. I've done my public service."
Boyd K. Rutherford, another local Republican who answered Ehrlich's call, left his state post as secretary of the Department of General Services early this year to take a U.S. Department of Agriculture position.