Ehrlich lobs political charges back at O’Malley

By Len Lazarick

In what promises to be a seven-month political tennis match of serves and volley, ex-Gov. Bob Ehrlich lobbed the ball back at Gov. Martin O’Malley Tuesday, saying “nothing much happened in Annapolis” this legislative session despite O’Malley’s claims of “moving Maryland forward.”

He accused Democrats of “kicking the can down the proverbial alley, waiting for next year … waiting for the monumental tax increase everybody knows is coming.”

Republican Ehrlich said Democrat O’Malley won victories for trial lawyers and teachers who support his campaign, but did little to combat the real problems facing Maryland, including huge increases in Medicaid demanded by the recently passed federal health care reform.

O’Malley has said he doesn’t plan to raise taxes, but hasn’t ruled it out entirely. Ehrlich said he will do better if he gets another shot.

“There’s a reason that we’re in the race,” Ehrlich said at a Baltimore news conference. “If Martin O’Malley would have made sound fiscal decisions, if Martin O’Malley would have followed the law with capital punishment, if Martin O’Malley would not have called a special session to spend money he did not have, if Martin O’Malley had worked with small business community to do something about job creation, we would not standing here today. I would be upstairs today with my law firm.”

Ehrlich spoke to reporters in the lobby of the West Pratt Street high-rise that houses the offices of Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, the Baltimore branch of a big North Carolina firm he works for.

Even the location stirred Democratic Party charges that he was running his political campaign illegally out of his law offices — “the special interest lobbyist… in the swanky corporate lobby… extolling the special interest agenda,” as party spokesman Isaac Salazar described it in an e-mail.

Ehrlich said the campaign was not about the past but about the future as he continued to hammer O’Malley. The sitting governor foiled Ehrlich’s bid for a second term in 2006, on tax hikes that the Republican said actually cut revenues and drove millionaires out of the state.

“We will generate more economic activity by cutting taxes,” Ehrlich said. “Some people will want to compare Maryland under O’Malley to Maryland under Ehrlich. We welcome that comparison.”

“Martin O’Malley’s record will be the central issue not just in the governor’s race; it’s going to be the central issue in a lot of legislative races,” he said.

He also said continuing charges of overspending in his last two years as governor were based on his decision to fund spending programs passed by the Democratic legislature.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Ehrlich said. “You can’t demand that Thornton [education aid] be funded — and we funded it — and then say you spent too much money on education.”

An hour before Ehrlich’s news conference, O’Malley sent out the first fundraising appeal he’s been allowed to make since January, when all contributions are banned during the legislative session. In a video, O’Malley called Ehrlich’s campaign a “grudge match, or shall we say rematch,” that sought to take Maryland backward.

“This is not a grudge match,” Ehrlich insisted. “A grudge match does not create one job in Maryland. There are 230,000 Marylanders looking for work. We have profound fiscal problems in Maryland.”

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