"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God," Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg said, quoting Jesus from Matthew 5:9, in the opening invocation of this year's House of Delegates session. It was something of the theme of the day when a Democrat-dominated General Assembly bent over backward to show just how accommodating they will be to Gov.-elect Larry Hogan and how eager they are to work with him rather than fight him in the months and years ahead. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state's last Republican chief executive, warned him about falsely friendly Democrats in a recent Washington Post op-ed, "What to do with those who spent the past year trying to take you down but now scramble to cover their tracks in this era of divided government?" the former governor mused. But if it was all an act, it was a pretty convincing one.
Gov. Martin O'Malley met first thing in the morning with Mr. Hogan, who then crossed to the other side of State Circle for a breakfast meeting with Sen. Barbara Mikulski before teaming up with his defeated rival in the 2014 election, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown. The two walked arm-in-arm through the State House lobby and into the House chamber, slapping each other on the back, cracking jokes and posing for photos with legislators and their families. "Every issue we confront, not just in the next 90 days but in the years ahead, there is opportunity to find consensus," Mr. Brown said. Mr. Hogan exchanged bipartisan hugs and talked to individual lawmakers about issues that are important to them, on which he had evidently been briefed.
Mr. Hogan addressed both the House and Senate chambers at their leaders' invitation — a customary courtesy afforded newly elected governors — but his reception was notably warm. House Speaker Michael E. Busch went to elaborate lengths to make the point that he intended to work collaboratively with the Republican executive. He introduced Mr. Hogan by pointing out to the delegates that they all had small Maryland flags on their desks, a powerful symbol, he said, of two sides coming together. The flag's distinctive design, he said, melds the yellow and black crest of the Calvert family with the red and white of the Crosslands. During the Civil War, the yellow and black became the symbol of Unionists, and the red and white was adopted by those who favored secession. In the 1880s, the two started appearing together in one flag, notably, Mr. Busch said, during the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg. "It was the coalition of two different philosophies," he said. "Here, every four years we bring both sides back together in the same symbolic gesture that flag represents."
In the Senate, President Thomas V. Mike Miller praised Mr. Hogan's lineage — his father was a congressman and Prince George's County executive — and said he has considered himself a friend of the governor-elect for decades. "He's honest, he's hard-working, and I promise we are going to work together." If the famously political Senate president had any unkind words today, they were for the House, not Mr. Hogan.
Mr. Hogan, meanwhile, made one expression after another of his desire to change Maryland in collaboration with Democrats, not through confrontation. "People voted for us to work together," he told the Senate. "It's what they want. It's what they deserve."
When Mr. Ehrlich became governor 12 years ago, he expected to be welcomed as a returning son. He had many friends in Annapolis from his years as a delegate, including Mr. Busch. And indeed, the hostility between him and the legislature that became the hallmark of his term took some time to develop. It's entirely possible that the expressions of goodwill from the Democrats for Mr. Hogan will soon evaporate. But neither side seems to assume that's a foregone conclusion, and that means it isn't.
Both sides have some incentive to cooperate rather than fight. Democrats were taken by surprise at not only the decisiveness of Mr. Hogan's victory but also the Republican sweep in formerly Democratic areas like Dundalk. Mr. Hogan has proved difficult to paint as an arch-conservative ideologue — Mr. Brown certainly tried — and Democrats have reason to fear even more losses if they refuse to work with someone who is professing a desire for bipartisanship as strongly as Mr. Hogan is. Meanwhile, Mr. Hogan saw up close how things went south for Mr. Ehrlich, and he knows how much the legislature can do to put him on the defensive.
Opening day of a new term is a time for expressions of bipartisanship — Democrats even promised that in 2007, the year when Mr. O'Malley took over for Mr. Ehrlich. But there is at least some reason to believe that this time, it might stick.