Faulting Townsend `team' record

October 20, 2002|By Tim Craig

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich began airing a television advertisement last week in which he strongly criticizes Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Ehrlich's Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, for their record on education and their stewardship of the elderly, disabled and mentally ill. The ad is airing statewide.

What the ad says: The 30-second spot opens with the phrase "Eight years ago" fading into a photograph of Glendening and Townsend. The announcer says, "Eight years ago, the Glendening-Townsend team promised better schools, but both reading and math scores have fallen."

The phrase "The Glendening-Townsend record" then appears as the announcer says, "They promised to take care of the elderly, but they slashed aid to the elderly $19 million this year alone."

A graphic then appears on the screen that says the Glendening administration cut $35 million from programs for people with disabilities. "They cut funds for people with disabilities and closed mental health clinics," the announcer says, as a murky image of a chained fence appears.

"Today, with a $1.7 billion budget deficit, they say, "Just give us four more years to try and get it right,' " the announcer says as the photograph of Glendening and Townsend reappears.

"It doesn't have to be this way. It's time for a change," the announcer concludes as Ehrlich's name and the word "Change" appear on the screen.

The facts: Ehrlich's claim that reading and math scores have fallen is questionable. Ehrlich is referring to a slight drop in students' reading and math test scores between 2000 and 2001.

Overall, however, test scores have either risen, in some cases substantially, or been stagnant since Glendening took office in 1995.

Ehrlich correctly points out that in 1995 Glendening, who was trying to close a budget shortfall, eliminated the $35 million Disability Assistance and Loan Program. The program gave stipends to about 21,000 poor, unemployable Marylanders. Ehrlich fails to point that Glendening reinstated a modified version of the program later that year at a cost of $161 million over five years.

The ad correctly states that mental health clinics have closed; more than a dozen have closed since Glendening took office. But it is difficult to determine what caused the clinics to close. Some say that the state has been underfunding the mental health system for years. Others contend the clinics closed because they were poorly managed.

On the issue of cuts to nursing homes, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sought to control costs in fiscal year 2002 by reducing payments to nursing homes by $9.5 million, resulting in an additional loss of $9.5 million in federal matching funds.

That money, plus an additional $1 million in state and federal funds, was restored for the fiscal year that began July 1, the Townsend campaign notes.

Analysis: The ad continues Ehrlich's effort to tie Townsend to Glendening, who, polls show, is unpopular in many parts of the state.

The spot tries to blunt Townsend's claims that Ehrlich has a poor record on education and helping the elderly and disadvantaged by pointing out some cuts made while she was lieutenant governor.

The ad also signals a more aggressive phase of Ehrlich's campaign. But just as some of Townsend's ads have done in the past, the spot shows how easily a candidate can take issues out of context.

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