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Hogan, Brown set bipartisan tone at Assembly opening

Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, left, greets members of the House of Delegates alongside his former gubernatorial campaign opponent, outgoing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, during the first day of the 2015 legislative session.
Maryland Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, left, greets members of the House of Delegates alongside his former gubernatorial campaign opponent, outgoing Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, during the first day of the 2015 legislative session.(Patrick Semansky, Associated Press)

Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown had few kind words for each other as they vied last year to become Maryland's next governor.

But on Wednesday, the Republican governor-elect and the vanquished Democratic lieutenant governor stood side by side in the State House to greet lawmakers on the opening day of Maryland's 90-day legislative session.

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The joint appearance reflected the mood of a day marked by ceremony, civility and optimism as the General Assembly welcomed its largest freshman class of senators and delegates in 20 years.

"Together we will change Maryland for the better," Hogan later told the Senate, where — as in the House — most seats are held by Democrats. "People voted for us to work together," he said.

Brown said he and Hogan decided to greet legislators together when the two had lunch together about a month ago. They both thought "it would be a great idea to demonstrate bipartisanship," he said.

"That's what I really like about Maryland," Brown said. "We're always finding a way to find the common ground, consensus."

Legislative leaders of both parties expressed similar views — even if it remains to be seen how long comity will last once they get down to such fractious issues as how to cut the budget.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, pledged his cooperation with the incoming Republican chief executive. Introducing Hogan to his 47-member body, Miller said, "He's honest, hard-working and I promise we're going to work with him."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch likewise talked up two-party collaboration in his opening remarks to the other 140 delegates. Drawing attention to the little Maryland flags decorating each House member's desk, he recalled how their bold colors and design were forged after the Civil War, when Union and Confederate veterans agreed to merge the banners they had carried in battle.

"Every four years we ... elect a new governor and new General Assembly,'' Busch said. "And just like those in 1888 who wanted to build a better Maryland" by blending their sectional symbols, he concluded, "we bring both sides together in that same symbolic gesture."

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Busch noted that Maryland's elected leaders face significant challenges, including maintaining and improving the state's public schools, broadening access to higher education, protecting the Chesapeake Bay and building a "vibrant economy." But the session's first day, he added, "is a day of celebration. Tomorrow we go to work in earnest."

Celebrate they did, especially the newcomers. The General Assembly's 188 members include 69 new delegates and senators. (Eight of the 11 new senators, though, served previously as delegates. Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, is making his second appearance in that chamber after a 12-year hiatus.)

With nearly 40 percent of lawmakers new to their current offices, legislative leaders said they expect the session to start relatively slowly. Unlike last year, when lawmakers filed a blizzard of bills even before the session began, only 15 bills were pre-filed in the Senate and 39 in the House. Some of the freshmen had yet to pick up their state-issued laptop computers. Busch reminded new delegates not to leave the House chamber before signing the paperwork needed to pay them their legislative salaries.

Among the newcomers was Del. Christian Miele, 33, a Republican from Perry Hall. A recent law school graduate, Miele works in his family's Web design and printing business. His wife, mother and father were on hand to see him take the oath of office on a leather-bound Bible that he said has been in the family since the 19th century.

Miele called the opening day the culmination of a year and a half of campaigning. He said he "has some ideas" about legislation, including reforming the way the state's legislative districts are drawn. That's something, he said, that "Democrats and Republicans should agree on."

Another freshman, Del. David Moon, 35, a Montgomery County Democrat, also brought his parents and sisters to witness his swearing-in. A blogger and political activist, Moon said his top priority in Annapolis would be keeping state funding for the Purple Line mass transit project, something the governor-elect has questioned. Moon said he also intended to fight cuts in state aid to the county's schools and to work toward finding alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders.

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While some veteran lawmakers have advised first-timers to learn the ropes in Annapolis before flexing their legislative muscles, Moon said he didn't need to get up to speed because "this is not my first rodeo." He's spent a decade campaigning for progressive causes and candidates, he pointed out.

Among those on hand for opening day was former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who is now a lobbyist. The Cumberland Democrat expressed enthusiasm for the new Republican governor, saying Hogan had a great visit to Western Maryland recently.

"He is so easy to talk to," Taylor said. "He's presenting the right message. I believe a lot of people are hearing him."

But Taylor saw trouble ahead for Hogan over the issue of transportation, where the incoming governor has said he would make highways a priority over mass transit.

"One of the ugliest issues to face is the roads vs. the rails," the ex-speaker said. "That pits a couple of the largest jurisdictions against the rest of the state."

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