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Ehrlich courts Md. farmers, horse industry

Washington Post staff

Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) faced raw autumn weather and falling hay bales in Frederick County on Monday to make the pitch that he would be a friend to farmers if he were elected again.

Ehrlich, who has mounted a rematch against Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), met with about 30 farmers at Trego Zimmerman's farm in Walkersville, at times mixing attorney's legalese with plainspoken enthusiasm for 4H Clubs.

"Winning this race means an opportunity for ag and for equine industry and this sector of the economy in general," Ehrlich said. "Clearly, if not [Number] one, the 1A complaint from small business generically across the state of Maryland has been an increasingly hostile regulatory climate. This environment is set by the executive."

Punctuated by moos from the adjacent barn, Ehrlich's talk focused on the themes that many farmers there wanted to hear: that state regulations had become punitive in the O'Malley administration, that the state government's hunger for revenue had overtaxed farmers and other small businesses, and that no one in Annapolis was standing up to the regulatory and confiscatory excesses coming from the Obama administration. Ehrlich cast the preservation of Maryland farms as an environmental issue.

"You have to have a governor and you have to have a regulatory leadership that understands and cares about promulgating your way of life," Ehrlich said.

Revisiting one of the issues that preoccupied much of his tenure, Ehrlich again accused Democrats of blocking slots legislation until it was almost too late for many horse farmers to reap the benefits and then enacting a flawed bill.

"Slots give me a headache," Ehrlich said, before accusing Democrats of standing by while Maryland horse farms struggled or failed and gamblers headed to racetracks in Charles Town, W.Va., or Delaware to play slots.

"My bill had a very terrible problem - it had my name on it," Ehrlich said. At a time when people are out of work, he said, he would have made sure Rosecroft racetrack was holding races. The racetrack in Fort Washington closed last summer.

"You could have 2,000 jobs at Rosecroft, at a venue where there are zero jobs there today ... because there's a lack of political will and a lack of understanding in the legislature about the farm economy," Ehrlich said.

The friendly crowd generally echoed his remarks.

Kathleen J. P. Tabor, an attorney from Elkridge who specializes in equine businesses and business law, said the Maryland horse industry has all but collapsed to the point that she considers leaving the specialty.

"I'm about ready to close doors myself," she said.

Tommy Smith, owner of Good Friday Farm in Ijamsville, was one of several who railed against excess regulation. The farmers acknowledged that farm runoff, which feeds giant algae blooms that create oxygen-free dead zones, is a leading cause of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, but they also said they felt as if farmers alone were bearing the cost of cleanup.

Robert Ramsburg, 66, a dairy farmer who operates the farm next to the Zimmerman's, said Attorney General Douglas Gansler, a Democrat who is running unopposed for a second term, would not be happy until he drags farmers off their land in handcuffs.

"He wants to make an example of some farmers," Ramsburg said.

Several farmers also expressed concern about the return of estate taxes that could force their heirs to cough up 60 percent of the value of their farms.

"Death should not be a taxable event," Ehrlich agreed.

Earlier, as Maryland State Sen. David Brinkley (R) introduced the former governor, some hay bales tumbled down from the top of a tall stack against the wall, showering a few spectators in a cloud of straw. No one was hurt.

"Too much hot air!" someone yelled.

"Notice, I wasn't speaking," Ehrlich said.

By Fredrick Kunkle  | October 4, 2010; 5:43 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections, Frederick County, Governor, Maryland State Budget, Prince George's County, Republican Party, Slots  
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Turnout matters, for both Ehrlich and O'Malley

Next: Montgomery group, headed by former Lockheed Martin exec, to scrutinize Pepco


Bob Ehrlich cares about the horse industry? Is that why he worked against Laurel Racetrack to have slots at Arundel Mills Mall?

Posted by: hamsandwich | October 4, 2010 8:59 PM | Report abuse

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