The Allegany deadlock

September 04, 2005

WHILE IT'S clear Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would like to appoint his friend and former colleague, Del. Kevin Kelly, to a vacancy on Allegany County's District Court bench, the local judicial nominating commission has judged him unfit for the job. Nominating commissions aren't required to reveal their votes or reasoning. But the purpose of the 13-member nominating commission - nine of whom are appointed by the governor - is to determine which candidates are qualified. They've spoken. It's time to move on.

Admittedly, the situation is rife with political intrigue. Supporters of Mr. Kelly, a Democrat, believe he's the victim of a smear campaign. Others speculate that the local bar hijacked the process. Their purpose, so the rumor goes, is to see their preferred candidate, a Republican, appointed to the $114,502-a-year position. Whatever the reasoning, the commission acted within the law. Mr. Ehrlich's failure to accept its decision has left the sole District Court judge in Cumberland swamped and has created an unacceptable backlog of cases.

But the episode is revealing in another regard. It's unusual for a governor's judicial choice to be summarily rejected by his own appointees. Nominating commissions are more often criticized for rubberstamping a governor's choice. If Mr. Ehrlich can't assert his will in a Republican stronghold such as Western Maryland and with people he's placed in authority, where can he? The governor often blames his ineffectiveness on Democratic obstructionists, but there's a fundamental problem: Mr. Ehrlich is chronically unpersuasive. Over and over again, he approaches issues as if he need only dictate his position - and not engage in all the arm-twisting, compromising and deal-making that running a government requires. It isn't conspiracies that thwart Mr. Ehrlich's agenda, it's usually his inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to convince others.

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