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First Click, Maryland: Ehrlich's 'mix'

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010:

The Agenda

Me in dots.jpgSpoiler alert: We think former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) is still planning to run for governor again this year and nothing changed Tuesday.

With that out of the way, let's get to the drama.

In the past 24 hours, based on the same speech given to about 50 business people in Pikesville, we have read that:

1. Ehrlich threw his audience a "curve ball," that "Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts' Senate race may be the catalyst ... Ehrlich needs to take on U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski this year," but that he "stopped short of announcing his candidacy for Senate."

2. Maybe Ehrlich isn't running for anything.

Ehrlich.jpgIf nothing else, perhaps Ehrlich's announcement in a few weeks that he is seeking a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will now seem less anticlimactic than it would have otherwise.

Interpretation #1 comes our way from a story by Scott Dance of the Baltimore Business Journal. Interpretation #2 is courtesy of the always-thoughtful Andy Green in a posting on the Baltimore Sun's Second Opinion blog. Both are worthy of some exploration.

The Senate speculation was prompted by Ehrlich's response to an audience member's question Tuesday, in which Ehrlich said a race against Mikulski is "in the mix." The former governor's use of the present tense was curious, but the notion certainly isn't new.

In a January interview, Ehrlich told us that the Senate race was being suggested to him during his "interactive listening tour" with business and community leaders around the state. But most people, he added, were saying "go for it" for governor.

Many people, including some close to Ehrlich, believe Senate would be a better office for him than governor. Ehrlich's personality is more that of a legislator than executive. He seems to reminisce more about his days as a delegate and member of Congress than his one term in Government House.

If Mikulski were retiring, it's hard to imagine that Ehrlich would not find the Senate race more attractive. But Mikulski enjoys more robust approval numbers than O'Malley, and as hard as Republicans have tried to wish her into retirement, it doesn't seem to be happening.

Which brings us back to the governor's race.

Green writes that he found it odd that Ehrlich did not criticize O'Malley more directly in his speech to the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, which instead targeted the allegedly anti-business tilt of the Maryland General Assembly and "Annapolis."

"If this was a warm-up for a run against Mr. O'Malley, you'd think Mr. Ehrlich would have thrown in a few broadsides against a tax-and-spend governor (the inconvenient fact of record spending increases at the end of his own term notwithstanding)," Green writes.

Perhaps. And the odds of an Ehrlich victory over O'Malley might seem longer than just a few weeks ago, when Republican euphoria over the Brown win in Massachusetts was at is height.

Still, it's hard (though not impossible) to see Ehrlich backing out now and leaving Maryland Republicans at the alter. Ehrlich's announcement date (for governor) appears to have slipped from late March into early April, but best we can tell, it's still coming.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Republicans try to redirect sex-offender debate
"The Republican minority in Maryland's House of Delegates stalled a package of bills to tighten sex offender laws Tuesday, saying the toughest measures that Republicans had proposed had been watered down or left out completely from a package negotiated by House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's)," writes The Post's Aaron C. Davis. "Republicans used a procedural move to delay votes on seven sex-offender bills until Wednesday, and said they would continue to push for legislation sponsored by Republican Dels. Steven R. Schuh (Anne Arundel) and Michael D. Smiegel Sr. (Cecil). That bill would have required mandatory 20-year minimum sentences for sexual assaults on children that do not involve weapons."

Baker launches election bid amid donor questions
Thumbnail image for Baker.jpg"Rushern L. Baker III (D) officially launches his third bid for Prince George's County executive Wednesday morning. He has been taking heat over more than $200,000 his campaign received through a slate, County 1 Now, whose donors are still unknown," writes The Post's Jonathan Mummolo. "Apparently in response to all the coverage it has gotten, the slate has decided to take the unusual step of hiring a spokesman. Late Tuesday, that spokesman, Alexander Krughoff -- Baker's communications director during the 2006 campaign -- said the slate's donors would be released online early Wednesday with all the usual campaign finance information."

Spending rises under Leggett's watch
Thumbnail image for Leggett head tilted.jpg"It's one of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett's refrains: His administration has worked to close nearly $2 billion worth of budget gaps since he was sworn into office in December 2006," writes The Post's Michael Laris. "Yet if the recession-era budget Leggett proposed Monday is approved, total government spending will have gone up by $423 million, or 11 percent, on his watch." Meanwhile, The Post's Miranda Spivack reports that: "Montgomery County's inspector general said Tuesday that unnamed county officials have withheld information and interfered with several investigations by his office, including some that have proved embarrassing for county government."

ACORN's Maryland branch shuttered
A former leader of Maryland's ACORN chapter says the group will "no longer operate in the state, doomed by an embarrassing national scandal six months ago from which the organization never recovered," reports The Baltimore Sun's Brent Jones. "Sonja Merchant-Jones, former co-chairwoman of the state chapter of ACORN and a board member since 1999, said there are no plans in Maryland to rebrand under a different name, a move undertaken Monday by several ACORN affiliates across the country."


Quotables

vallario.jpg"Judges will be responsible for their decisions. That is why we elect them. We have elected them for the last 200 years and hopefully we will continue."
-- House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) on Tuesday during a hearing on sex offender bills appearing to reveal his position against a bill sponsored by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler to end elections of Circuit Court judges.

"Even if it's a small amount of money, it's the symbolism behind it at a time when the budget is stretched elsewhere."
-- Ryan O'Donnell, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, a government watchdog group, calling former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's decision to charge the city $260 for hair styling services over an 18-month period politically "tone deaf."

"We're looking down the gun barrel ... If [investors] came in tomorrow and said we're gonna do a fire sale, I'll be sitting there helping them light the match."
--Bob Brennan, executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp. testifying on Tuesday that the Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort in Western Maryland would shut down by 2013 if slot machines are not operating by then.


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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 17, 2010; 6:45 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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