By Len Lazarick
Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich told what was termed a “Common Sense Town Rally” in Ellicott City Tuesday night that Republicans should not be the party of “no, period,” but “no, semicolon,” expressing “our positive vision for Maryland” rather than just opposition to current policies.
As he continued his campaign-like appearances around the state, the Republican ex-governor remained the candidate of “maybe” as he contemplates another run against Gov. Martin O’Malley, who beat him in his 2006 re-election bid.
In the first question from the floor, Flora Betro, president of the Howard County Republican Woman’s Club, asked if Ehrlich was going to be on the ballot next year – a query that drew applause and shouts from the crowd. Ehrlich repeated a year-old refrain.
“It is something that we’re looking at. And if I conclude that we can ultimately do what I just described to you, we’ll run. And if I conclude that we can’t, I won’t. We’re looking at it and listening, running around and talking to people.”
Later he told reporters, that in the state, “obviously [Democrats] control everything. They control the patronage. They’ll raise a ton of money. The monopoly is not acclimated to having challenges. All those factors present major obstacles. If I conclude after all this talking that we can win, we’ll run. And that’s the bottom line.”
“I have a lot of people to talk to. I have a lot of numbers to look at. I have a lot of meetings, conferences,” Ehrlich said.
“The majority of people have contacted me. We haven’t contacted them,” he said, noting that he has been in touch with people who had objected to some of his policies as governor.
Asked if he would have done anything differently in his first term, Ehrlich said, “Of course, there were things you would do differently. As far as the major policy calls — doing the budget cuts early, supporting slots, charter schools, the Chesapeake Restoration act, disabilities [department], ICC funding — that’s stuff that we feel very good about. Obviously, there were particular personnel moves and things like that.”
In 2003, Ehrlich came into office facing big budget deficits, and he was asked if the current round of budget cuts looked familiar. “No. The advice I got was cut more than you need to early so that you don’t have to revisit it time and time again,” he said. “You’d rather do this once rather than six times or seven times or eight times.”
Ehrlich considers Howard County a bellwether for any political comeback.
“As Howard County goes, so goes the state of Maryland,” he told the crowd.
In 2002 in the county he beat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by almost 11,000 votes, and in 2006, he lost the county to O’Malley by 677, garnering 1,286 fewer votes than he did four years earlier.
The “Common Sense Town Rally,” named after the Thomas Paine pamphlet during the American Revolution, was a follow-up to the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Parties held around the country since April, organizers said.
“Our constitution is in jeopardy,” said Karen Winterling, president of the county Republican club and an organizer of the event. “We’re fighting for our basic rights.”
Ehrlich didn’t disagree. “People react to confiscatory taxation and to a loss of freedom” he said in his speech. “Our culture and our values are under attack.”
Calling for “common sense conservatism,” Ehrlich said, “there’s an appropriate role for government” and the GOP needed to offer “a message of freedom and a celebration of opportunity.”
The rally featured characters dressed as figures of the American Revolution. Betro portrayed Betsy Ross and Winterling portrayed Martha Jefferson, while characters costumed as George Washington and Paul Revere honored Ehrlich.
Having the message brought from 18th century figures didn’t go over well with Broderick Young. He and his wife were among the only African Americans in the crowd of about 175 at the Ellicott City Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.
Young suggested that Republicans needed to take a look at the “packaging” of their substance.
“Conservative values are diehard in the African American community,” Young told Ehrlich from the floor. “I love the substance of what’s being said”
But “the 1700s weren’t too kind to me,” Young said, referring to his race. On the other hand, “the party of Lincoln was very good to me.”
After the event, Young, a Columbia resident who recently moved from Florida and calls himself “more of an independent,” said the crowd was “a genuinely pleasant group of people” but “they’re starved for some new ideas.”
For other details about the rally, see Sarah Breitenbach’s story in Patuxent.