Gov. Martin O'Malley enjoyed a rare occasion of bipartisan goodwill Friday as he ventured to the Eastern Shore to announce almost $160 million in long-awaited transportation projects to a region that has not given him much love in his statewide campaigns.
The governor traveled to the Talbot-Caroline county line to announce he had given the green light to begin construction of a $50 million replacement of the 81-year-old Dover Bridge over the Choptank River starting next summer. He also highlighted two other big-ticket construction projects in the Middle Shore region -- the replacement of the dangerous intersection of U.S. 301 and Route 304 in Queen Anne's County with a modern interchange, and a new phase in the widening of Route 404 on the way to the Delaware beaches.
For his efforts O'Malley was treated to some of the kindest words he's likely heard from a conservative Republican since he was elected as a Democrat in 2006.
Sen. Richard F. Colburn of the Middle Shore, the longest-serving Republican in the Maryland Senate, expressed gratitude in his public remarks that O'Malley had come through with projects of vital importance to the region despite its legislators' overwhelming rejection of the governor's proposed gas tax increase. According to state transportation officials, none of the proposed projects could have moved forward without the money.
"The governor didn't have to fund any projects on the Shore," said Colburn, who voted against O'Malley's transportation revenue bill. "He's not doing it for any political reason. He knows it's the right thing to do."
Colburn said that of the five governors he's dealt with, including one of his own party, the one with whom he's had the best relationship is O'Malley.
"We have forged a great friendship and we've worked together," the senator said.
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O'Malley, for his part, refrained from taking any shots at the legislators present who voted against the revenue package. Previous governors have not always been so forgiving.
In an interview later, O'Malley said he understood the tensions that arise between the executive branch and the legislature.
"The bottom line issue is, for all the difference in opinion, we all want the same thing," he said.
Colburn's conciliatory line is unusual for a senator from a conservative region where saying anything good about O'Malley is a few steps from heresy. But the 20-year senator said he had no worry that his words would bring a primary challenger out of the woodwork.
"We've had a lot of problems with previous governors, but this governor is putting some money in the [comprehensive transportation plan]," he said. "I don't think I'm going to be challenged for focusing on a new Dover Bridge and a dualization of 404."
Not every Republican was as forgiving. Del. Jeannie Haddaway of Talbot County, recently recruited Harford County Executive David R. Craig as his running mate for the GOP nomination for governor, released a statement questioning why it had taken so long to move forward on the Dover Bridge.
Haddaway, a gas tax increase opponent who stayed away from the governor's event, noted that Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced nearly 10 years ago that he had allocated more than $40 million to replace the bridge.