Ehrlich lost the battle

can he lose the wink?

June 18, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

Wink, wink? The governor of Maryland, daring to be relevant, was on the radio the other day - again, and for almost 11 minutes straight - and he said, "Wink, wink." He said it at least three times during one of those long Bobby Governor harangues against Democrats - particularly the General Assembly leaders who had just worked out a plan on electricity rates - and how they strike devious deals among themselves and avoid hard truths for political expediency. They kind of "wink, wink" at each other, behind our backs, the governor said.

At least I think that's what he was trying to say. Not sure. I haven't heard a governor say "wink, wink" very much.

I knew a carpenter who had a habit of saying, "Quote-unquote" a lot, even when he was just quoting himself, and he'd hold up two fingers on each hand and curl them like quote marks. ("We're going to, quote-unquote, tear down that bearing wall.")

From the carpenter, the quirky "quote-unquote" thing was kind of cute.

But if I'm advising the governor - free advice, babe - I'd have to tell him to lose the "wink, wink" thing. It's an odd, Will-Ferrell-as-Ron-Burgundy kind of expression.

I'd also have to tell the governor this: You sound like a sore loser. You had a chance to get involved in the final deal and get some credit for it. You didn't, and you don't. It's time to change the subject.

I'm sure I'm not the only "ratepayer" - another phrase we could lose - who has grown sick of the argument over the electric rate increase. We're relieved the General Assembly came back into session and, in one day, settled the thing. The deal doesn't look as bad as the governor keeps saying it is, either, if you take time to read about it. Several members of the governor's own Republican Party think it's OK. BGE thinks it's OK, pretty much. And financial analysts interviewed by The Sun say consumers came out a little ahead on the deal.

Governor Ehrlich's plan, which he hammered out a couple of months ago, wasn't bad, either.

He made a good effort. But some of the provisions in his deal turned on the proposed merger of BGE parent Constellation Energy and Florida Power & Light. The General Assembly's plan doesn't, and there are some give-backs in it for consumers.

Plus, we're going to dump the Public Service Commission and start over with a new set of commissioners. The governor thinks that's awful, that it could jeopardize the BGE-FPL merger and send a chilling message to Wall Street.

I believe that like I believe Maryland has an anti-business climate. Give us this day our daily break!

I don't know about anyone else around here, but I'm about done with this. The Republican governor tried to work out a deal. The General Assembly, with its Democrat majority, went one better, though over time the difference is going to be negligible to most consumers, according to accountants who looked at the deal for this newspaper.

Can we move on now?

The governor says no.

"There's just a lot of bad here," he said on the radio. The deal is bad for consumers and bad for the business climate in the state.

So he's promising - what? - a kind of Mr.-Smith-goes-to-Annapolis filibuster, a "fairly unprecedented" pre-veto public hearing Tuesday, which he said could go on for "six, seven, eight, nine, 10 hours."

(Is this going to be televised? Can someone TiVo it for me? Wink, wink.)

If I'm advising the governor - free advice, babe - I'd have to tell him to move on. There's an election he wants to win in November, and he needs to change the subject so that the BGE rate shock doesn't dominate the campaign.

If he wants to distinguish himself in the next month or two, Robert Ehrlich should be talking about ways to conserve energy and develop new forms throughout Maryland. (Doug Duncan, the Montgomery County executive, is already doing this in his Democratic gubernatorial primary bid.)

Ehrlich should use his bully pulpit to champion renewable energy - wind, solar - and call for fast-tracking its development at a time when Marylanders are fixated on the cost of energy. He should be talking to farmers about preserving their land to reduce "dumb growth" in rural areas and growing more corn to get the state on the edge of ethanol production. He should be trying to attract smart-car manufacturing to the state, advocating expanded public transportation and rolling out a long-range plan to provide incentives for innovative, energy-related research here.

I don't see where more crabbing about the BGE deal - and trying to save a discredited PSC - is going to get him anything.

The voters see how this whole affair has been politicized in an election year, with Martin O'Malley charging in and getting his hands on an issue that hadn't exactly been on the crime-fighting mayor's radar screen. As he did in the proposed state takeover of city schools, O'Malley showed up just in time for the cameras. And it's convenient to have issues that take voters minds off the city's homicide rate and the number of dubious arrests the Baltimore police have made during O'Malley's tenure.

Smart, opportunistic politics is O'Malley's forte.

So we should expect the mayor to beat the BGE-PSC horse from now until November. If he can bring himself to do it, the governor should change the subject. Free advice, babe. Wink, wink.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

To hear Dan Rodricks on the radio, tune in to WBAL (1090 AM) from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

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