Mr. Ehrlich's state of affairs

January 27, 2006

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s speech to the General Assembly yesterday may not be remembered as an oratorical gem, but his fourth State of the State address was notable in at least one respect: Only Burger King is selling more whoppers. One expects a certain amount of braggadocio from an incumbent governor seeking re-election, but Mr. Ehrlich's set a new standard. It's hard to tell which of the speech's remarkable rewrites of history is more jaw-dropping - the one where the governor bragged about preserving open space (after cutting the program by hundreds of millions) or when he boasted about landmark Thornton school funding (after declining to even sign the legislation that forced it on him).

Are we shocked when a politician misrepresents his record? Sadly, no, but it's a shame those things which this governor might actually deserve to brag about - his willingness to impose a flush tax to fix up aging sewage plants and to push for drug treatment and rehabilitation for state prison inmates, to name two - are lost in the pile-up.

But if there is one accomplishment - or lack thereof - that will define this governor's term, it is his failure to find common ground with the legislature. Yes, Mr. Ehrlich is a Republican governor, the first since Spiro T. Agnew. But the estrangement has been worse than mere politics can explain. The governor noted the problem himself, asking lawmakers to put an end to "assassin politics." He has done so before. But as usual, Mr. Ehrlich sees the loss of civility as a purely one-sided affair. The irony is overwhelming, but apparently lost on the denizens of the Ehrlich bunker.

An election year is not the ideal time for Republicans and Democrats to begin a hot new romance, but there will be opportunities for compromise. Stem-cell legislation would be a good place to begin. Mr. Ehrlich claims to be willing to finance embryonic research. Democrats want more long-term funding - and greater certainty over how the money will be spent. Surely, there is some halfway point that can be found - unless it's all just meaningless posturing.

As an orator, Mr. Ehrlich admits he's unconventional. His decision to fly in the grateful president of Louisiana's storm-ravaged Jefferson Parish so he could publicly thank Mr. Ehrlich for Maryland's relief contributions (for the second time in four months) was a bit cringe-worthy. But what really count are deeds, not words, and the governor has 70 or so days to try to accomplish a few.

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