Ehrlich attacks O’Malley’s record at GOP convention

May 01, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

OCEAN CITY — — Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. delivered a blistering attack Saturday on current Gov. Martin O'Malley before 250 enthusiastic Republicans at the state party's spring convention in Ocean City.

"I'm running because we have record unemployment, record job loss, record deficits, record tax increases and the loss of our business reputation. I believe I and we have the competence to lead and fix it. We've done it once. We'll do it again," he said to thundering applause.

The Republican attacked O'Malley on multiple fronts, criticizing the governor's use of the term "progress."

The Democrats, he said, want to "punish wealth," but he argued that just drives away the wealthy.

"I don't raise taxes on producers who create jobs," he said.

He again slammed O'Malley for the decision by Northrop Grumman to locate its headquarters in Virginia rather than in Maryland. "When the Yankees won the World Series, did The New York Times report it as a win for the American League?" Ehrlich said to laughter. O'Malley had said the firm's headquarters move was good for the entire region, even if the firm did not choose Maryland.

O'Malley, who was endorsed Saturday by the AFL-CIO, has stressed the progress he's made over his first term in office despite the harshest economic climate since the Great Depression.

Tom Russell, O'Malley's campaign manager, said, "There's a huge difference under Bob Ehrlich when Maryland could not move forward. Under Governor O'Malley, Maryland has the No. 1 public school system in the nation two years in a row, has kept college tuition frozen and balanced the budget. If Bob Ehrlich doesn't want that, we are more than happy to compare records."

O'Malley has also noted that Maryland's unemployment rate is below the national average, and more new jobs were created in Maryland during March than in any other state in the union.

But Ehrlich used the effects of the recession to criticize O'Malley.

"It's not what voters call progress in 2010," he said.

Raising the state sales tax during the 2007 special session hurts business in places like Ocean City, Ehrlich continued, because it is so close to Delaware.

Democratic leaders, Ehrlich said, are always surprised when they raise taxes and the expected revenue doesn't materialize. "They're out of touch, out of money, but they're never out of excuses."

He said the Democrats, if successful, will raise taxes next year. "It's the worst-kept secret in Annapolis," Ehrlich said. Democrats have merely "kicked the can," with short-time one-time fixes like the federal stimulus instead of fixing Maryland's structural deficit.

He also said that, if elected, he is not interested in just getting along. "Ehrlich wasn't elected to get along," he said about his first term from 2003-2007. "I was elected to fight this stuff."

Ehrlich, who lost to O'Malley in 2006, cautioned his audience not to be overconfident in this unusual political year.

"No one in this room should be cocky, ever," he said.

After Ehrlich's speech, Joan Becker, head of the Howard County Republican Central Committee, said, "He was back on target, and he was listening. Ehrlich is doing focus groups to hone his message. It's a changed environment than what it was four years ago."

The spring convention is one of two the Republicans hold each year to talk about campaign strategies and financing and offer training sessions for new candidates.

The Republicans also heard from a possible dark horse 2012 presidential candidate, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Libertarian-leaning Republican who advocates legalization of marijuana sales, and decriminalization of other drugs.

Johnson served two consecutive terms from 1994 through 2002, also in a state with a 2-1 Democratic majority and a legislature controlled by Democrats. He said he didn't get along with the Democrats, telling the lunchtime audience that he vetoed 750 measures in eight years and was reversed only twice by the legislature.

Johnson is a bit unusual for a Republican. He's opposed to government regulations requiring motorcycle helmets, he said, though he wears every bit of safety equipment himself when he rides.

"We have organ donor shortages," which people who don't wear helmets presumably help to satisfy, he said to laughter. Johnson also said in an interview that he opposes the new Arizona law on immigration, fearing it will lead to racial profiling, despite denials from the bill's supporters.

Despite all that, Johnson said, he's "outraged over what's happening in this country right now" in regard to debt and spending. "We are bankrupt," he said. "Retirement ages must be raised, and Medicare must be capitalized or limited. The next shoe to drop is state pension funds," said the former building contractor and tri-athlete.

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