Don't count on a big Democratic year in Maryland.

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Corlyss_D
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Don't count on a big Democratic year in Maryland.

Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Jun 21, 2006 11:22 pm

THE WESTERN FRONT
Ehrlich to Rise?
Don't count on a big Democratic year in Maryland.

BY BRENDAN MINITER
Tuesday, June 20, 2006 12:01 a.m.

ANNAPOLIS, Md.--If this is going to be a watershed year for Democrats, there is little sign of it here, in the heart of one of the bluest states in the country. Only four other states handed Sen. John Kerry wider margins of victory two years ago, and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1.

Nonetheless, four years after becoming the Old Line State's first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew became vice president in 1969, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is in a strong position to win re-election this fall. He's raising plenty of money (including $1 million in one night at a fundraiser headlined by President Bush), is quietly cheered on by middle-of-the-road Democrats, and enjoys surprisingly high approval ratings. His approval rating has reached as high as 67%, and at the end of the Legislature's regular session in April--when ratings are typically at low ebb--he was polling at 55%.

I sat down with Gov. Ehrlich last week to ask how he has survived titanic battles with a heavily Democratic state Legislature and hostile press. It's worth noting that the governor has made some moves that might have alienated conservative voters. Over the past four years he has backed using tax dollars to fund stem cell research, increased property taxes (though he cut them back a bit this year), and imposed what's been called the "flush tax"--a $30 annual fee on property owners that's used to upgrade sewer plants. He's found common cause with environmentalists in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and at times charted what the Washington Post has called a "moderate" course.

As we sat in a private study in the executive mansion, Gov. Ehrlich demurred, a little: "I won't guarantee you that we will win re-election, because we are Marylanders and because we are Republicans." His chief of staff, Chip DiPaula Jr., was more forceful. He said Democrats in the Legislature hold a "dangerous majority" that has given rise to harebrained far-left ideas, and that has handed the GOP an opportunity.

Set aside whether being able to override vetoes on party-line votes makes Democrats "dangerous," and the nub of Maryland's political story becomes clear. The Legislature has spent several years pushing pro-tax and antibusiness policies that are rarely popular with voters. The Legislature has voted through some $7.5 billion in tax increases for this governor to veto, raised the minimum wage, attacked Wal-Mart, and, most recently, spent several months trying to destroy an interstate merger between Baltimore-based Constellation Energy and Florida Power & Light. Maryland has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country (3.4%), but even voters who have jobs don't like tax hikes.

Maryland's economy is booming thanks to an explosion in federal spending, but the state has long suffered from a reputation as a bad place for the private sector to do business. And sure enough, a chat with the governor's economic development secretary, Aris Melissaratos, confirms the state's plans for attracting jobs still centers on gaining Pentagon, Homeland Security Department and National Institutes of Health dollars. Mr. Melissaratos, a registered Democrat and immigrant from Greece, says there's bipartisan support in the state's congressional delegation when it comes to winning federal contracts, but that the state Legislature has made itself "irrelevant" in bringing jobs to the state.

He was being kind. State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who is also a trial lawyer, made clear his party's lack of interest in keeping jobs in the state two years ago when he helped turn a push for tort reform into a tax increase. The new tax, imposed on HMOs last year, was suppose to stop doctors from fleeing the state by raising money to help them pay rising malpractice insurance bills. But it quickly rebounded onto consumers. Shortly after the tax was enacted over the governor's veto, Aetna and other HMOs announced they'd be passing the tax directly onto their customers.

How many voters did Gov. Ehrlich pick up thanks to the tort tax? It's hard to know. But probably more than Sen. Miller gained by piling on a second health-care tax this year. Determined to do something about the rising cost of the state's Medicaid program, the Legislature decided to forgo reining in the entitlement and instead took aim at Wal-Mart. Sen. Miller, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and others accused the retailer of not paying its "fair share" of health care costs for the poor because it didn't spend at least 8% of its payroll on health insurance for its employees. Now a new tax--enacted over the governor's veto in January--forces Wal-Mart to spend 8% on health insurance or pay the state the difference.

We'll find out in November whether vilifying a company that wants to expand in Maryland was smart politics. But one early indication that it might have been a mistake is how badly similar efforts to tax Wal-Mart have fared across the country. Despite a push in dozens of states by the AFL-CIO, the Wal-Mart tax has so far been defeated everywhere else it's been introduced. Even liberal Rhode Island rejected it.

Then there's Sen. Miller's gift to those voters who like using electricity. Seven years ago the senator pushed through a deregulation plan that imposed price caps at 1993's rates until July 1, 2006. Now the caps are coming off and with 13 years of pent up increases hitting all at once, residents in central Maryland are going to be socked with a 72% rate hike. Legislators have been in a near panic to shift blame away from themselves and even met in special session last week to work out a compromise with Baltimore Gas & Electric. Regardless of how the fight turns out, no amount of political dissembling will get around this fact: Voters who run their AC this summer will still be paying steep electric bills when the campaign season heats up this fall.

A fair or at least a populist press might have cautioned legislators to cool it long ago. But the state's largest newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, has been engaged in a protracted fight with the governor. Its opening shot came during the 2002 campaign, when Mr. Ehrlich tapped Michael Steele, who is black, as his running mate. The Sun editorialized that Mr. Steele "brings little to the team but the color of his skin." That remark and a list of errors (including some 80 instances of misspelling the governor's name) spurred Gov. Ehrlich to instruct his administration not to talk to two Sun reporters. The paper sued, claiming its free speech rights were being violated, but was forced to drop its suit after losing in every court that heard the case.

Last year the governor set up a Halloween display on the front lawn of the executive mansion and he was blasted for that too. Sun columnist Laura Vozzella scoffed at the large inflatable jack-o-lantern and other ornaments, calling them "a little, well, Arbutus"--a dig at the governor's blue-collar hometown. Mr. Ehrlich has also been grilled by the media on why he supports defining marriage as between a man and a woman and why he put "Merry Christmas" on his Christmas cards.

It's a safe bet that no one at the Sun appreciates how politically helpful have been Mr. Ehrlich's defense of marriage and Christmas, his working-class background and his choice of a popular African-American as lieutenant governor--though clearly Mr. Ehrlich understands how helpful it has been to use the Legislature and the media as a foil. He has a framed picture of that inflatable jack-o-lantern on the wall inside the governor's mansion. In it he's standing next to two Democrats who understand how to win elections, Virginia's former governor Mark Warner and Washington's Mayor Anthony Williams. All three of them are giving the "Arbutus" jack-o-lantern the thumbs up.
Mr. Miniter is assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com. His column appears Tuesdays.

Copyright © 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jun 22, 2006 2:44 am

Naturally I'd prefer a Democrat in the governor's chair in my state of residence for 25 years, but Maryland is one of those states like Massachusetts where you can't get away with being a Republican Republican, if you know what I mean. As I've posted many times, I detest the lack of party discipline in the US which has great majorities voting against members of their own party because, well, they just like the other guy better. But Maryland has a history of troubled governorships, and I can see why anyone who just brings integrity and the ability to get things done to the office would be popular.

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Duncan Drops Out of Race

Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jun 22, 2006 3:52 pm

From the "right-wing" WaPo. He must have got a look at a Dems prospects.

Duncan Drops Out of Race

By Nancy Trejos and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 22, 2006; 4:42 PM

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan dropped out of the race for governor today, saying he has been diagnosed with clinical depression.

"It's time for me to focus on my health," Duncan said at an afternoon news conference at the Executive Office Building in Rockville.

Duncan, 50, said he first believed he was simply experiencing stress from campaigning but realized "it was more than the usual wear and tear." He said there is a history of mental illness in his family.

Campaign aides said Duncan went to see a doctor on Monday and is now taking medication for depression.

Duncan announced his decision with his wife, Barbara; son, John; and running mate, Stu Simms, at his side. Upon entering the conference room, he received a standing ovation from the county employees and teary-eyed campaign workers in the audience.

Duncan, who has been Montgomery's maverick county executive for 12 years, faced stiff competition for the Democratic nomination from Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Duncan's was the underdog campaign: He had raised less money than his opponents and trailed them in the polls. But that had only driven Duncan to more aggressively pursue his main opponent, often attacking O'Malley's record on crime and education.

His withdrawal means that O'Malley and the Democratic party can now focus their energy and money on toppling Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Duncan said that he called O'Malley today to inform him of his decision and to offer his support. A source close to the O'Malley campaign said aides pulled O'Malley out of Mass at 12:05 p.m. to take Duncan's call.

O'Malley urged him to get well and invited Duncan to get together with him soon. "They want him to have a major role," the source said.

This will be the first time Duncan's name will not appear on the ballot in 12 years. His political allies said they hope he will not disappear from Democratic politics.

"He has so much to offer," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). "I give him a ton of credit for running a very credible campaign. I think he's made an honorable decision."

Duncan said he would finish out his term as county executive.

"I know he has weighed the question of whether to keep the job he has and I have confidence he can do that," said Montgomery County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large).

Other allies said they were more concerned about his health than his political future.

"I am upset," said Montgomery County Council Member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), who is running for county executive. "He's been a good political friend and I've worked together closely with him for 12 years and I'm upset whenever anyone I've worked with and been friendly with is suffering, and that's clearly the case here."

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md), who endorsed Duncan, told the Associated Press that Duncan called him this morning to inform him of his decision.

"I think he would have made a great governor, but as I said, one has to take care of health first and his responsibility to his wife and family and to himself," Wynn said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said that he believes he saw signs of Duncan's depression at an event held by Wynn last week.

"You could see he was down in the dumps," Miller said. "I told him, 'Cheer up. You're swimming with the sharks. Don't let it get to you.' "

Miller said he believes Duncan made a courageous decision, one not all politicians would be willing to make.

"He's thinking of his family first," Miller said. "He's a great man for that. I love him dearly."

Many other county leaders said they saw few signs of Duncan's depression and believed his campaign was building momentum, despite recent revelations that he had received financial contributions from corporations affiliated with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, at a time when the county was considering leasing a school to a Jewish organization Abramoff supported. Duncan returned the money, but said he was not aware of any links to Abramoff.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Montgomery County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), a Duncan supporter. "I thought his campaign for governor was surging."

Just this week, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce endorsed him.

"It's kind of a huge shock," said Richard Parsons, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Duncan's decision to withdraw "is a huge loss for the county and for him personally," Parsons said. "I feel for the guy."

Parsons praised Duncan's long run as county executive, citing his record of promoting education, addressing transportation issues, and revitalizing Montgomery's economy.

"You've got to look at that and say, 'Wow -- the guy has done some great things.'"

Politicians weren't the only ones surprised. George Griffin, a childhood friend of Duncan's, said he also did not expect Duncan to drop out.

"Politics is an exciting business, but it can also be brutal," he said. "You never put it above your family or your own personal health. I give him a lot of credit for making a hard decision."

Staff Writer Cameron W. Barr and Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/co ... 00755.html
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Corlyss_D
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Jun 22, 2006 3:54 pm

jbuck919 wrote:I detest the lack of party discipline in the US which has great majorities voting against members of their own party because, well, they just like the other guy better.
You guys love party discipline as long as it's Democratic party discipline. When it's Republican party discipline, well, then they are a bunch of mindless robots doing what their leadership demands or blackmails them into.

So which is it? Party discipline, good? Or party discipline, evil?
Last edited by Corlyss_D on Thu Jun 22, 2006 11:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by RebLem » Thu Jun 22, 2006 10:48 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:I detest the lack of party discipline in the US which has great majorities voting against members of their own party because, well, they just like the other guy better.
You guys love party discipline as long as it's Democratic party discipline. When it's Republican party discipline, well, then they are a bunch of mindless robots doing what their leadership demands or blackmails them into.

So which is it? Party discipline, good? Or party discipline, evil?
Each democratic system has its own way of ensuring diversity. In the US system, the only thing you absolutlely owe your own party is your vote to organize the legislative body to which you were elected. In what is, effectively, a two party system almost everywhere, you need a system like that in order to see to it that there are more than 2 views on some subjects expressed, and that each has a chance, through compromise on close votes, to influence outcomes. If you have strict party discipline, as you do in a parliamentary system where the failure of the party in power to carry a vote on a major issue results in the fall of the government, the way of ensuring diversity is by the multiplication of parties. I think that in European countries, which are all, with the exception of Russia, small countries compared to the US (the distance from Seattle, WA to Miami, FL is the same as the distance between Lisbon, Portugal and Tblisi, Georgia), perhaps the parliamentary system is best. But in the US, where a substantial part of the reasons for differing viewpoints is regional, where the Mountain states have a radically different world view from the rest of the country, where the prairie states have a whole set of interests unique to them, and so on, one of the bases for the multiplication of parties if we adopted a parliamentary system would be geographical. And if we had separate parties for Alaska, for Hawaii, for California, for the Pacific Northwest, for the northern Mountain states and the southern Mountain states, for the prairie states, for the Deep South and the border South, and the industrial Midwest, and New Engliand, and the Atlantic seaboard between New England and Maryland, our politics would be far more embittered, fractious, sectional, and secession prone than it is. For the US, I believe a basic two party system with considerable diversity allowed in each party is the best approach.
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