Ad depoliticizes Ehrlich

critics call it misleading


Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. released his first television advertisement of the Maryland gubernatorial campaign yesterday, a folksy 30-second spot that uses seemingly regular people - but not the governor - to praise the Republican incumbent as a centrist who has kept taxes down, promoted environmentally sound policies and pushed for stem cell research.

Launched in the heat of a polarizing debate over the state's utility rates crisis, the ad's main message is that Ehrlich is a leader who puts politics aside to do what is best for Maryland residents.

The commercial moves quickly from one speaker to another, showing state residents of different ages and races standing in city, suburban and rural settings. One unidentified young woman says Ehrlich governs "from the center, where most of us are."

Through snippets of sentences strung together to form complete thoughts, the speakers say: "Some were upset when Ehrlich refused to raise income taxes or insisted that Annapolis keep spending under control. Others got annoyed when he fought to save the bay and pushed stem cell research.

"When faced with a crisis on electric rates, Ehrlich could have blamed others. Instead he led, and that's what a governor should do."

Ehrlich's opponents and several issues advocates say the ad is misleading on various fronts, noting, for example, that he reluctantly signed a bill in April that authorizes state spending for stem cell research while in past years he stood by as funding proposals died in the legislature.

"I'm grateful for his $20 million allocation, but as far as leadership, we asked the guy to help us for a year and a half, and he ignored us," said John Kellermann III, a Towson resident who has Parkinson's disease and has lobbied extensively for state research funding.

A spokeswoman for the Ehrlich campaign declined to comment, saying the ad speaks for itself. It was unclear whether the speakers were actors or supporters; none was identified.

Terry Harris, acting director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said the ad paints a distorted picture of Ehrlich's environmental record. His group gave Ehrlich a D+ rating for his environmental policies during his first two years in office, Harris said, adding that the ad's claim that Ehrlich is saving the bay is like "fingernails on a chalkboard."

One of the governor's chief legislative accomplishments is a $30 yearly fee on sewage and septic bills to pay for wastewater treatment plant improvements.

Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat and member of the House Appropriations Committee, disputed the ad's claim that Ehrlich has brought fiscal discipline to Annapolis, saying that fees and fines have been created or increased during the Ehrlich administration.

"The rate of growth over the last four years in the state budget ... probably comes close to Parris N. Glendening for his whole eight years" as governor, Madaleno said, adding that an income tax proposal has never reached Ehrlich's desk, contrary to what the ad implies.

While the ad says Ehrlich has not assigned blame for the electricity rate crisis, the governor has said repeatedly that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and other top Democrats are responsible for an impending 72 percent BGE rate increase, and that they "own" the issue because of a 1999 deregulation bill.

Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said the ad is notable because the governor does not speak and is not pictured, indicating that he might have become a polarizing figure who needs to soften his image.

Crenson said the fact that Ehrlich has started running ads before formally announcing his re-election bid could be a sign that he is nervous about his prospects for victory in a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by a ratio of 2-to-1.

"I think he's really taken a hit in the electricity rate controversy," Crenson said. "He knows he has to regain his footing fast, and that's what this is trying to do. He's trying to depoliticize himself."

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