Ehrlich embraces familiar issues, looks for crossover appeal

By Len Lazarick

On his Facebook page last week, Bob Ehrlich said it was “time for new ideas and proven leadership.” What he delivered at a Rockville campaign kickoff Wednesday were familiar ideas that he hopes will play better in this year’s political climate.

He promised lower taxes, better budget fixes and a more business-friendly state government. Ehrlich said he’d bring more charter schools, and end to “schoolyard trash talking” and “petty politics” in Annapolis.

“Marylanders want a different direction in Annapolis,” Ehrlich told a crowd of several hundred supporters. “I believe I am uniquely placed to take advantage of that status to again lead the great Free State of Maryland.”

“Today we begin to roll back the 20 percent increase in the Maryland sales tax; today we begin to fix the budget with no gimmicks; today we jump start the educational opportunities in this state — we’re going to double the number of charter schools in this state. Today we again look to our small entrepreneurs as source of job creation and not revenue enhancement.”

Ehrlich delivered his remarks in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s boyhood hometown, seat of a county that gave O’Malley a big margin in Ehrlich’s 2006 re-election loss. Since that election, Montgomery County now has no elected Republicans in any state or local office.

At a lunchtime press conference, O’Malley said he was looking forward to the race, but wondered about Ehrlich’s choice of locale. In addition to growing up there, O’Malley announced his candidacy in Montgomery County four years ago.

“Maybe imitation is the highest form of flattery,” O’Malley said. “I don’t know.”

But Ehrlich hopes his message plays well in areas like Montgomery County. He was introduced by the last Republican to hold a seat on the Montgomery County Council, Howard Denis, who also served as state senator.

Mary Kane, a Potomac resident who was Ehrlich’s secretary of state, was master of ceremonies. She said in an interview that she thought Ehrlich could make inroads in the county given the economy.

The ex-governor himself made constant reference to jobs and the economy. While he said he loves Virginia’s new Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, he said to Virginians “enough of cleaning our clock; we’re back in business.”

“Enough of making fun of Maryland … enough of tech taxes, wealth taxes, success taxes, enough over-regulation, enough of a campaign against small business people.”

But O’Malley argued at his press conference that his administration has dealt with tougher economic circumstances, and noted that property taxes, fees and college tuition went up during the last term.

Ehrlich’s team also dealt with questions about how inclusive their support will be.

Kane bristled at a question about the lack of diversity in the mostly older, white crowd in a county that is one of the most diverse in Maryland. About 45 percent of Montgomery County is black, Latino or Asian. Kane thought the audience was pretty diverse for Wednesday workday morning. (One Democrat at the event noted it was much more diverse than a typical Republican event.)

Kane, an attorney whose husband was the GOP state chairman under Ehrlich, has been mentioned as a candidate for lieutenant governor. She said simply she would “do whatever he wants me to do.”

Less than two hours after Ehrlich stopped speaking, O’Malley sent out an e-mail to his supporters saying: “He wants a grudge match to try and show the people were wrong when they voted him out in 2006. ‘Ehrlich Grudge Match’ or not, we’re ready and waiting to compare our records and our plans to move Maryland forward.”

The League of Conservation Voters, which has already endorsed O’Malley’s re-election, was less kind about Ehrlich’s announcement, in which he made no mention of the environment.

“Been there, done that, can’t afford to do it again,” the league said in a statement about Ehrlich as governor.

Ehrlich was to make another announcement in his own hometown of Arbutus Wednesday night.

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