GOP leaders urge business backing for their candidates

By Len Lazarick

In a familiar refrain, the General Assembly’s Republican leaders urged the members of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce Friday to back candidates who support their interests – not the Democrats who now dominate the legislature.

“The business community has a strong interest in a viable two-party system in the state of Maryland,” House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, told the Chamber’s policy conference in Cambridge.

The GOP now controls less than a third of the Senate and just a quarter of the House of Delegates, but the state party see the 2010 election shaping up like the 1994 contest. That year, Republicans picked up seats in the Maryland legislature and gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“I sense this environment is very much like 1993,” O’Donnell said, pointing to the Democratic control of the White House and and the massive revamping of health care that is on the table.

“We’ve got to stop what we’re doing,” said Senate Minority Allan Kittleman, R-Howard and Carroll. “We have to reverse it.”

Kittleman cited last week’s Clarus Research poll showing disapproval for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s performance in managing the state budget, holding down taxes and electricity rates, and bringing new jobs to Maryland.

“The people of Maryland understand,” Kittleman said. “We just need to make sure the legislature and the business community understand.”

In the survey, voters approved of O’Malley’s “strong leadership” and his ethical standards. However 48 percent did want to “see somebody new elected” over O’Malley, though that “somebody new” was not former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, who got 40 percent of the vote in a hypothetical rematch with O’Malley, who got 47 percent.

The Republican pitch came after Senate President Mike Miller, D-Calvert and Prince George’s, and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, gave their forecasts for the upcoming session.

“These are going to be very difficult times,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a tough session.”

He said the budget cutting is “not going to get any easier.”

But Miller said the election of Republican governors in New Jersey and Virginia were no harbinger for Maryland.  In New Jersey, where incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine was defeated, Corzine had far lower approval ratings than O’Malley now does, Miller said. Corruption was “huge issue in New Jersey,” as well, and the members of the legislature were not on the ballot, as they will be in Maryland next year.

“It’s going to be a huge get-out-the vote effort,” Miller said.

O’Donnell and Kittleman were particularly critical of the budget numbers cited by Miller and Busch. General fund spending may be down slightly, but the overall state budget, about $31 billion, is still higher than it was when O’Malley took office. “Do not believe” Democratic claims that they cut the budget $4.3 billion, Kittleman said. Those were simply reductions in planned increases in spending.

Kittleman said the GOP could pick up six or seven seats in the Maryland Senate next year.

Chamber officials said they were already supporting candidates of both parties.

“I think it’s our role to support candidates who support our issues,” said Betty Buck, of Buck Distributing, the past Chamber chair and a longtime friend of Miller. “You have to field strong candidates in order to get the business community excited.”

Buck said she did not think the two Republicans who might run for governor, Ehrlich and his patronage secretary, Larry Hogan, fit that bill.

Kathy Snyder, president of the Chamber, said the Chamber’s political action committee has endorsed and contributed to pro-business candidates. “We’ve been tracking the votes of senators and delegates on business issues,” and “we’ll be encouraging our members to look at those votes.”

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