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First Click, Maryland -- Ehrlich's day

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Thursday, March 25, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgHappy Maryland Day. Thursday commemorates the 1634 landing of settlers from two ships, the Ark and the Dove, on Maryland soil at St. Clement's Island, now part of St. Mary's County.

March 25 has been a legal holiday in Maryland since 1916. And until just a couple of weeks ago, it was hotly rumored to be the day that former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) would announce his 2010 bid for governor.

On Wednesday, April 7 became the new March 25.

Ehrlich associates have been telegraphing an early April announcement for a little while now. But on Wednesday, Bruce DePuyt of ABC 7 and NewsChannel 8 became the first to report an actual day. Based on "an informed source," his report said Ehrlich would announce April 7 at 10 a.m. in Rockville, with another event that evening in his childhood home of Arbutus.

For the record, Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell branded the report as "speculation" and said: "We'll decline to comment on each new date that hits the rumor circuit."

O'Malley-Ehrlich debate.jpgSeveral Ehrlich boosters have told us that April 7 is certainly a possible date for his announcement but that the timing could still slip. Some question whether it makes sense to announce during the final busy week of the legislative session. As of Wednesday afternoon, several top Republicans whom one would expect to be invited to such an announcement told us they have yet to get the word.

In any event, it's a strange election year when the biggest drama -- in late March, no less -- centers on the exact date on which a challenger might announce. In other states with 2010 races for governor and U.S. Senate, declared candidates have been slugging it out for many months now.

Granted, even some political insiders remain less than 100 percent convinced Ehrlich will actually pull the trigger. That's in part because of how little fundraising he's done to this point.

Thumbnail image for Ehrlich family.jpgBut it's been seven weeks since Ehrlich confidant Larry Hogan ended his exploratory bid for governor and announced to the world that he was "convinced" Ehrlich is seeking a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). And in many ways -- on his Facebook page and by making appearances all over the state -- Ehrlich has been acting very much like a candidate for some time now.

Come November, it will be irrelevant whether Ehrlich announced on March 25, March 31 (another date that was floated in recent weeks) or April 7. Frankly, the more important mystery is how much Ehrlich will tell us about what he would do with a second term.

We fully expect both camps to devote much of the campaign to tearing down the four-year record of the other. But we've also taken note of the slogan now appearing on Ehrlich's Facebook page: "New ideas. Proven leadership."

That first part has a familiar ring. As a candidate in 2002, Ehrlich released a document called "101 Outstanding Ideas for Maryland," which began with a promise to ensure every child could read by third grade. His 2006 re-election campaign, by contrast, was largely devoid of new ideas. Ehrlich focused instead on his record during the previous four years and on O'Malley's stewardship of Baltimore, as its mayor.

Come April 7 (or some other day soon), perhaps the focus of the 2010 campaign will become a little clearer.

-- John Wagner


News You Should Know

Senate passes budget -- and pension costs to counties
"Maryland's Senate passed a $31.9 billion budget Wednesday that would shrink overall state spending and fundamentally shift responsibility for teacher retirement costs from the state to counties," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "The retirement-cost plan faces stiff resistance and is not expected to survive in the House of Delegates. But fiscal watchdogs and longtime lawmakers said the fact that the Senate passed the controversial change probably means it's now a matter of when, not if, Maryland counties will soon be responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars annually in teacher pension costs."

Weak ban on hand-held phones while driving passes Senate
"The Maryland Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would bar Maryland drivers from using hand-held cellphones, a measure that most experts say would do little to make the roads safer," writes The Post's Ashley Halsey III and John Wagner. "The bill passed by a single vote -- 24 to 23 -- after hours of debate in which supporters said it would send a message about the dangers posed by drivers who hold cellphones to their ears. That message may be the most potent effect of the bill, because it includes a provision that would discourage police from enforcing the ban. The legislation awaits attention in the House of Delegates."

Senate votes to send Prince George's card games to ballot
Thumbnail image for Table games.jpg"Voters statewide would decide whether to legalize gambling on card games at an ailing Prince George's County racetrack, under a bill passed by the Maryland Senate on Wednesday," Wagner writes. "The Senate voted 34 to 13 to seek voters' blessing in November to allow some Las Vegas-style table games, including poker and black jack, at Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington."

Md. environmentalists split over storm-water compromise
"More than 30 Maryland environmentalists--including a former governor, a former U.S. senator and a former congressman--held a press conference today in Annapolis to denounce efforts to revise rules on pollution flowing to the Chesapeake Bay through storm sewers," writes The Post's David Fahrenthold. "The event, led by former U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings (D-Md.), was another sign of a fracturing in Maryland's green community over an arcane area of environmental law. This year, land developers were supposed to face a new set of rules defining the ways that water could run off new or re-developed properties. ... But developers objected to this plan, saying it was so restrictive that it would stop growth--or re-direct it into undeveloped areas, away from "smart growth" sites near urban cores."


Quotables

"There's no indication that hands-free is risk-free. You're still on the phone, you're still focused on the conversation, and you're still a distracted driver."
-- Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association on the hands-free law that passed the Senate.

Rona Kramer.jpg"It will be us making them flush that money down the toilet."
-- Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Montgomery), explaining why she voted against the hands-free bill. She said the legislature would be forcing people to buy hands-free devices, which would not take the risk out of talking while driving.

"The compromise was not a good deal. ... This is an environmental outrage. Let's stop it now."
-- Former Maryland state senator Gerald W. Winegrad (D) on the storm-water compromise hashed out in the Senate. Former Gov. Harry Hughes (D) and former U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R) also spoke against the compromise.

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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.

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By Aaron C. Davis  |  March 25, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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