First Click, Maryland -- Ehrlich enters the gate
Your morning download of Maryland political news
Wednesday, April 7, 2010:
On Wednesday morning, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s long walk to the starting gate will end, and we'll get our first good look at the kind of race for governor he intends to run this year. A video on his revamped Web site offers a preview.
Tuesday told us more about the tactics of his Democratic adversary. In a surprisingly aggressive move, and one that seemed aimed at tripping up Ehrlich (R), Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) proposed a debate for this Saturday.
Most intriguing were the terms: The hourlong exchange would take place on the radio, which is arguably Ehrlich's best format. It would take place on WBAL, the Baltimore station on which Ehrlich's weekly talk show airs -- and one which O'Malley has avoided for years. And it would take place during Ehrlich's regular Saturday morning time slot, making it difficult for the former governor to argue he wasn't available.
"There are so many important issues facing our state right now," O'Malley said in a statement issued by his campaign. "I think the Maryland public deserves to hear about our plans and ideas as soon as possible."
Ehrlich countered by offering to host O'Malley on his show -- "rather than bringing in a moderator to fill air time" -- and pronounced himself disappointed when O'Malley's campaign manager made clear that isn't what the governor had in mind.
Both sides ended an exchange of statements by saying they remain open to their original offers. It's probably safe for Maryland political junkies to make other plans for Saturday morning. The forecast calls for cooler temperatures than Tuesday, but it still should be a good day to get outside.
O'Malley's debate offer was among several efforts by Democrats to clutter Ehrlich's path. The Maryland Democratic Party distributed a list Tuesday of "Six questions we hope reporters ask Bob Ehrlich at his third campaign announcement."
The first of the six -- which is actually two questions, for those counting carefully: "What do you think of the job Michael Steele is doing at the [Republican National Committee]? Have you asked your (former) lieutenant governor to campaign for you?"
Staffers are the Democratic National Committee are also making a concerted effort to push reporters to ask Ehrlich about Steele, who sought Tuesday to reassure RNC members that the party is on stable footing under his watch.
Tuesday also brought a little news on another Democratic effort to embarrass Ehrlich. The State Board of Elections acknowledged it is looking into a Democratic party complaint that Ehrlich has misused resources at his law firm in the run-up to his campaign.
The day's best sideshow, however, was arguably one put on by fellow Republicans outside the State House. Brian Murphy, Ehrlich's long-shot rival for the GOP nomination, trotted out James Pelura, the former Maryland Republican Party chairman, as a supporter. Pelura, who resigned in November under heavy pressure from other party leaders, said the public is eager for a fresh face.
Granted, much of this won't matter all that much in a few hours when Ehrlich takes the stage in Rockville to announce his candidacy. The spotlight will be focused tightly on him, and we're eager to hear what he has to say.
News You Should Know
Controversy over UMD law clinic funding comes to an end
It was one of the smallest issues in Maryland's $13.2 billion budget this year, but it unexpectedly became one of the biggest before dying quietly in a committee vote on Tuesday night: The General Assembly will not withhold funding from the University of Maryland's environmental law clinic pending a report on the student group's clients and court costs. UMD's little-known law clinic became a touchstone for debate over academic freedom last month on the floors of the House and Senate after the student group sued a small Eastern Shore farm connected to Perdue for alleged violations of state runoff laws. A Senate vote to cut off state funding until the student clinic divulged its list of clients and expenditures gained national attention in the legal community. Budget language still requests a report to lawmakers on the clinic's activities over the last two years, but state funding will not be contingent on the briefing. UMD law school officials have said they would comply with the request.
-- Aaron C. Davis
House passes gang prosecution bill
Maryland's House of Delegates on Tuesday approved to a measure sponsored by Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-Prince George's) to make it easier for States Attorneys to prosecute suspected gang members. The bill is intended to fix a similar bill the General Assembly passed three years ago that has yet to result in a single conviction. The bill may be the biggest legislative success this year for Levi, who is running for Prince George's County Executive. While some minority and Latino lawmakers opposed the measure, saying it could ensnare teenagers loosely connected to gangs, law enforcement officials backed the measure. If passed by the Senate, it would mandate that a gang member gets extra prison time for crimes committed specifically for a gang, and would add offenses to the list of crimes for which gang members could get longer sentences, including assaults, gun crimes, witness intimidation, human trafficking and prostitution. The measure also creates stiffer penalties for gang leaders.
--Aaron C. Davis
House budget negotiators make proposal on state debt
Heading into what could be their final session on Wednesday to hammer out a compromise on this year's state budget, House members of the budget conference committee late Tuesday made their first comprehensive proposal for dealing with long-term state debt. The plan calls for reducing House-approved funding to local governments for highway improvements by about $400 million over the next four years, closing about half the long-term shortfall fixed by the Senate's plan to outright eliminate most of the funding, and to begin to shift teacher pension costs to counties. The House proposal did not budge on the issue of teacher pensions, but called for setting up a "super blue ribbon commission" of state business leaders to study the issue. Senate negotiators said the proposal offered no guarantee the state would follow the commission's recommendations.
--Aaron C. Davis
Audit: Long-term inmate health care needs improvement
"A state audit says there have been some improvements in inmate health care at Maryland prisons, but more needs to be done to help inmates with long-term conditions," reports The Associated Press. "The Office of Legislative Audits released a report Monday on the state prison health care system. It says the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services progressed in areas such as making sure inmates were examined within seven days of an arrest, and with creating a program for methadone addicts. However, auditors found "minimal progress" in treating inmates with chronic conditions such as HIV and diabetes, and demanding contractors improve in areas where they have shortfalls. The state promised to make improvements after reaching a settlement last year with groups that sued over prison health conditions."
Negative bond-rating watch prompts action in Montgomery
Montgomery County council member Phil Andrews proposed legislation Tuesday that would end controversial retirement benefits known as 'phantom' cost of living increases," writes The Post's Michael Laris. "Under an agreement last year, the county makes contributions to the pensions of general government workers, fire fighters and police based on raises they did not receive. Ending that practice would save $7.2 million in the next fiscal year and more than $200 million over 40 years, Andrews said. The proposal comes as the Moody's bond rating agency has put the county on a watch list for a rating downgrade because revenues are down further than expected and officials are relying on the county's reserve fund."
"I look forward to playing host this Saturday as I have every Saturday for the past few years ...Rather than bringing in a moderator to fill air time, I will personally host Governor O'Malley for a one-on-one conversation about the record tax increases, jobs losses, and budget deficits that have hurt Maryland families and small businesses in recent years."
--Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s statement posted Tuesday on his Web site in response to Gov. Martin O'Malley's call for an on-air Saturday debate.
"We proposed a very simple and standard debate at a time we knew would work for Mr. Ehrlich. We regret that he did not take our offer in the spirit it was intended. Our offer stands to have a true debate this weekend at a time that is convenient for Mr. Ehrlich if he is at all interested. We weren't proposing a trip to some political pundit's talk show."
-- O'Malley campaign manager Tom Russell, responding to Ehrlich's response.
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.
Aaron C. Davis
April 7, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner
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