Promises gone, not forgotten

O'Malley Web site removes policy papers, but some -- especially Republicans -- keep track

November 18, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

As Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley makes the transition from candidate to chief executive, one thing seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle: his vision.

Or, more precisely, the "Vision" link on his campaign Web site. In the days since the Baltimore mayor beat Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to become Maryland's 61st governor, his policy positions on higher education, health care, utility rates, transportation and the environment - the sort of things critics pull out months or years later to check whether a politician is keeping his promises - have disappeared from www.

The link to donate money to the mayor, though, is alive and well.

O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said the position papers were taken down in the normal course of moving from campaign to governance. There's no one left at the campaign to update the site, Kearney said.

However, the governor-elect still intends to make good on his promises, Kearney said.

"That's why we made them," he said.

Ehrlich had a similar set of campaign promises from 2002, titled "101 Outstanding Ideas for Maryland." Once that campaign was over, all traces of that document disappeared from the Web, too, but some Democrats hung on to their copies. As the governor's 2006 campaign swung into gear, the Democrats passed them around like samizdat.

Ehrlich did come through on a number of the "outstanding ideas," such as selling the state yacht. But the O'Malley campaign made sport of highlighting the ones he didn't, particularly No. 20, "End parole for violent criminals." As the governor criticized O'Malley's handling of crime in Baltimore, the mayor shot back with ads saying that many of the city's problems could have been solved if he had followed through on that promise.

Republicans promised that turnabout will be fair play.

"Martin O'Malley should be very clear that we along with the majority of the people of the state have made good note of the numerous expensive promises he's made the people of Maryland, and his feet should be held to the fire in fulfilling them," said Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller.

Some of the promises had big price tags attached to them - such as committing to $400 million in school construction this year and $250 million a year thereafter. Expensive promises could prove difficult to fulfill given reports from budget analysts that the state could face fiscal troubles again within the next few years.

But other pledges, such as a comprehensive study of the state's transportation needs, are relatively inexpensive. Even limiting tuition increases at the University of Maryland would likely cost only a few tens of millions a year, a relatively small part of the state's $15 billion general fund budget.

Some, such as pursuing changes to the way utilities bid for electricity, would have little impact on the state budget at all.

Zach Messitte, the director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and the professor of a course on Maryland politics at St. Mary's College, said effectively wiping the record of campaign promises would be nearly impossible.

The opposition researchers from the Ehrlich campaign probably have files full of O'Malley's policy papers, he said.

"There are some details that may disappear, but the guy talked nonstop for nine months about the things he wanted to accomplish, particularly the big things, and there are plenty of newspaper articles about what he would do in office," Messitte said.

However, Messitte said, that may be little consolation to the student in his class who was assigned to write his term paper on the O'Malley campaign. It's due in two weeks.

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