Ehrlich gives campaign preview in lunch speech

Governor appeals to group as pro-business moderate

April 22, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

Speaking to a friendly crowd of business leaders, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. gave a preview of how he plans to recapture the support of the moderates and independents who made him Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation.

Ehrlich has traditionally made the annual luncheon of Maryland Business for Responsive Government his first major address after the General Assembly session, and this year his remarks focused his case for re-election as a pro-business moderate who has invested in the environment, education and economic development.

The governor ticked off a long list of accomplishments, including taming large budget deficits, securing thousands of new jobs through the military base realignment process, passing the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act and beginning work on the Inter-County Connector in suburban Washington.

"Large numbers of Democrats and independents have greeted these public policy successes with open arms," Ehrlich said. "They are independent-minded moderates, fiscal conservatives and pro-business Democrats. They have been impressed by our accomplishments, and this year maybe convinced to renew our contract."

Ehrlich has trailed the two major Democratic candidates, Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, in most public polls. But unlike them, Ehrlich has not officially begun to campaign. He is expected to have between $15 million and $20 million to spend on the race - by far the most of any candidate in Maryland history - and unlike the Democrats, he has no primary opponent.

Democrats responded quickly to his speech. Party Chairman Terry Lierman said in an e-mail that the governor has hurt Maryland business by raising property taxes, bridge and tunnel tolls, car registration fees and other levies.

"How does Governor Ehrlich claim to be business-friendly when he raised taxes, fees and tolls on families and businesses by over $3 billion in the last three years? `$3 Billion Bob' talks a great game about being business-friendly, but he is the one who proposed, supported and signed into law a vast array of taxes that impact directly on the business bottom line and the pocketbooks of working families," Lierman said in the e-mail.

Maryland Business for Responsive Government is a nonpartisan advocacy group, but yesterday's event was unabashedly pro-Ehrlich.

MBRG President Robert O. C. "Rocky" Worcester said in his introductory remarks that the business community's fate and Ehrlich's are linked.

"The very rough treatment he has gotten in recent weeks, months, you might as well substitute rough treatment for business, because they're one and the same," Worcester said.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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