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Tuesday, March 9, 2010:

The Agenda

The old governor embraces new media

Me in dots.jpgFirst it was Facebook. Now it's text messages.

Supporters of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) are awakening Tuesday to an email inviting them to receive "mobile updates from my team." A few weeks ago, Ehrlich -- who is expected to make his rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) official late this month -- pointed people to his revamped Facebook page, which now has nearly 12,000 fans.

"I am planning more announcements in the coming weeks," Ehrlich's latest email says. "Mobile updates will allow you to receive breaking news and exclusive content about my upcoming events and announcements."

Ehrlich family.jpgEhrlich's continued embrace of new media came just hours after O'Malley's campaign put on an event that was about as old-school as they come: an endorsement by the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland. That announcement was made Monday afternoon in a nearly empty union hall in Baltimore and attracted just a couple of television cameras.

To be fair, O'Malley is also tapping into more modern ways to communicate with voters. He has a Facebook page, too, albeit one with fewer than half the number of "fans" that Ehrlich now has. And in December, the O'Malley held a "virtual town hall," broadcast live over the Web.

Ehrlich's use of Facebook and text messaging speaks to a larger challenge facing his 2010 campaign: He needs to do something -- probably many things -- to appear fresh.

O'Malley firefighters.JPGEhrlich is clearly hoping to ride a wave of national discontent back to the governor's office. But in states where Republicans have pulled upsets lately, voters have wanted something new.

In almost every news story that gets written about Ehrlich between now and November, the word "former" will precede his name. And Democrats will do all they can to portray former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as a retread already rejected once by the voters.

Like other challengers, Ehrlich is likely to spend much of his campaign telling us how the incumbent has fallen short during the past four years. But aides have hinted that he will also talk about what he would do with another four years of his own -- something Ehrlich said very little about as he ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 2006.

In fact, a new slogan on Ehrlich's Facebook page hints at that: "New Ideas. Proven Leadership."

Ultimately, whatever those new ideas are will be more important to Ehrlich's fate than the media through which they are conveyed. But the text messages are an intriguing start. You can get them by sending EHRLICH to 97180.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Senate debates cost of keeping kids in school
Stoltzfus mug.jpgPinsky mug.jpgDebate in the Maryland Senate over a bill that gradually raises the age of compulsory school attendance from 15 to 17 got bogged down Monday night by concerns about its cost. While senators on both side of the aisle said they support the measure's aim, several Republicans questioned whether Maryland can afford it given the state's continuing budget constraints. Legislative analysts estimate the longer required school stays would cost the state more than $48 million by fiscal year 2014, rising to more than $71 million in 2016. "Where is our fiscal sanity?" demanded Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset). Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's) countered that the state would save money on prisons, youth services and welfare. Floor debate is scheduled to resume Wednesday. -- John Wagner

Inspector cites abuse in Montgomery tuition program
"Montgomery County awarded more than $600,000 in no-bid payments to nine companies that had ties to county police officers and were part of a controversial tuition-assistance program, Montgomery's inspector general said in a report released Monday," report The Post's Dan Morse and Michael Laris. "The government provided little oversight for the program and in many cases appeared to have responded to invoices from the companies simply by cutting checks of as much as $59,800, according to the report. The lack of controls enabled 216 county employees -- police officers, sheriff's deputies and corrections officers -- to take county-funded training classes and, at the end of the courses, purchase deeply discounted guns that one official has called the 'candy' to get them to enroll in the first place."

Judge ends 26 years of oversight of Baltimore schools
"Saying that Baltimore's schools have made great strides in the past several years toward providing better teaching to special education students, a federal judge ended 26 years of oversight of the school system and paved the way for a final settlement in two years," writes The Sun's Liz Bowie. "U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis accepted an agreement from the parties in a lawsuit that began in 1984 when the Maryland Disabilities Law Center filed suit on behalf of several special education students saying they were not being offered adequate services."

Supreme Court takes case of Md. man's funeral protest
The Supreme Court will review whether anti-gay protests at funerals of American soldiers are protected by the First Amendment, taking up the appeal of a Maryland man who won and then had reversed a $10 million verdict against the small Kansas church that conducts the demonstrations," writes The Post's Robert Barnes. "The funeral protest case is brought by a Maryland father whose son's 2006 funeral in Westminster was picketed by members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Westboro pastor Fred W. Phelps Sr. contends that the deaths of American soldiers are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality and has organized nearly 43,000 protests since 1991, according to the church's Web site."

Senate to vote on judgeship for Miller's son
Thumbnail image for Miller mug.jpg"A key Senate panel voted Monday evening to approve the appointment of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.'s son as an Anne Arundel County District Court judge, a nomination that was first put forward two years ago and prompted three members of the county's judicial nominating commission to resign in protest," writes The Baltimore Sun's Annie Linskey. "The panel's decision means a vote on Thomas V. Miller III's nomination to the bench will likely go to the Senate floor later this week."

Quotables

"Home of Our National Anthem"
-- Slogan most Maryland license plates would begin carrying in October under a bill that has passed the Senate. If approved by the House, Maryland would join 33 other states that have a slogan or motto on standard license plates. The line would honor Maryland native Francis Scott Key who penned "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the British attacked Baltimore's Fort McHenry.

"We're hoping to get as much as we can for it."
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Dixon photo.jpg-- State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh confirming that former Mayor Sheila Dixon's Xbox video game system, which prosecutors said she bought with gift cards meant for the poor, has been listed on the online auction site eBay. Rohrbaugh said he plans to post Dixon's two fur coats and a camcorder in the next few days.

"If you have a lot of money, this is a good year to die."

Frosh mug.jpg-- Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) on Monday speaking in favor of emergency legislation to smooth out estate taxes in 2010. Under a 2001 bill, the federal estate tax does not apply to the estates of persons dying after December 31, 2009. The act will terminate on Dec. 31, 2010, at which point estate taxes will return to their pre-2001 levels.

You're Invited

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for MP image.jpgYou're invited on Thursday to meet the reporters and editors behind The Washington Post's Maryland Politics Facebook page -- as well as some of our 5,000 or so fans. Cash bar and food available. We can promise plenty of lively conversation and interesting people.
Where: Harry Brownes, 66 State Circle, Annapolis, Md.
When: Thursday, March 11th, 5:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.


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Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics. Each weekday, First Click brings you The Agenda, a concise, forward-looking analysis of the day's top development in politics or policy. "News You Should Know" breaks down top stories from across the state. And Look Ahead, Unspun, News Makers, and Week in Review keep you up to speed with power brokers in Annapolis and beyond. Want First Click on the go? Sign up for our free e-mail edition, and get the news delivered to your inbox or mobile device.

By Aaron C. Davis  |  March 9, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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Next: Md. Senate passes first update to child support guidelines in two decades

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