The long view

January 16, 2007

History may look more kindly on Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s term as governor than voters did last November. At the moment, any report card would probably offer a Gentleman's C for his four years in office. The accomplishments of the term are modest, but nothing disastrous took place and he won't leave office tomorrow as unpopular as Parris N. Glendening was.

What happened during Mr. Ehrlich's time in Annapolis seems, in retrospect, to have been inevitable. Elected the first Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew, the former congressman inherited a difficult budget mess (chiefly a downturn in tax receipts with an uptick in education spending) and muddled through it.

He had to make some difficult choices with few political allies. His lack of administrative experience was not helpful, nor was the lack of Annapolis experience among his senior staff.

Too many wounds were self-inflicted, and no chief executive could have been successful by warring with (and too often simply ignoring) the legislature. Democratic leaders may have wanted Mr. Ehrlich to fail, but the governor made it too easy on them with such foolish decisions as his veto of a minimum-wage bill and his failure to address rising college tuition, issues important to working-class voters.

To top it off, Mr. Ehrlich's disdain for critical coverage by the press and embrace of talk radio made him seem more aligned with the far-right Rush Limbaugh wing of Republican politics than mainstream Maryland.

And, of course, Mr. Ehrlich's preoccupation with slot machines seemed to underscore both his obstinacy and his ineffectiveness.

But there were successes, too.

His "flush tax" is expected to greatly help efforts to upgrade sewage treatment plants and reduce the flow of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Ehrlich's judicial appointments were well-regarded even by his detractors, and his willingness to commute life sentences of deserving inmates was a welcome relief from Mr. Glendening's "life means life" absolutism. A significant boost in highway construction and his support of legislation to provide state funds for embryonic stem cell research and to crack down on power plant emissions were also significant achievements.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Ehrlich demonstrated that a pro-choice, socially moderate Republican can get elected to statewide office in Maryland. The trail is blazed. Voters would be well-served by having more such choices in the future.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.