Dems and GOP war over party dinners

Tone and message different

May 16, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Call it the war of the political dinners.

Thursday night at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville, Howard County Democrats at their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner heard Gov. Martin O'Malley give them all the good news he claims credit for, despite the Great Recession.

Two nights earlier at Turf Valley, Republicans gathered for their annual Lincoln Day dinner to hear former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pick apart the Democrat's claims.

"When times are tough, we make progress," O'Malley told a crowd of about 220 people. Ehrlich had told the Republicans on Tuesday that his attacks on O'Malley had stopped the governor from using the word "progress."

O'Malley reviewed his now-familiar litany of achievements, from keeping college tuition flat for four consecutive years to cutting spending by $5.6 billion and leading the nation in job creation in March, while Ehrlich repeated a shortened list of stock criticisms from the state's high unemployment rate to the looming $1.5 billion revenue shortfall.

"Everything's broken down [in Annapolis], and we're going to fix it," Ehrlich told the roughly 230 Republicans. He'll be visiting Howard County frequently, he said, because "as Howard County goes, the state goes."

Both candidates urged their party faithful to become more active, work harder and reach victory in November — and both candidates said they're confident of winning.

"By every metric, we're beyond where we thought we would be," Ehrlich said.

"There's not a doubt in my mind we're up for this," O'Malley said.

O'Malley tried to portray Democrats as the agents of confident progress, and painted Ehrlich, who regularly derides such claims as false, as a harbinger of a contentious past.

"When you want to move your car forward, do you put it in 'D' or do you put it in 'R'?" O'Malley asked at one point. "The other fellow is here to tell us how little government can do," the Democrat said, charging that despite his claims, Ehrlich presided over the largest increase in state spending ever and raised hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes and fees.

Santorum gave the Republicans at the dinner a more philosophical, national look at the political world as he sees it.

Before party leaders auctioned off two yellow Labrador puppies named "hope" and "change," the former two-term U.S. senator and father of seven painted an apocalyptic vision of America's "addiction" to big government if the national health reform law isn't repealed.

This year, he said, Republicans must retake control of Congress and take the presidency in 2012, or it might be too late to reverse what he feels is a movement to "Western European socialism" that will rob Americans of their freedom.

Liberals, he said, are intent on creating "a kind of almost police state where government creates rights." The health reform law is really part of a liberal plot, "a tool to increase the size of government." Once citizens learn to depend on big government too heavily, there will be no turning back, he said, citing rioting in debt-laden Greece as evidence.

Discussing the subject recently with a Democratic pundit, Santorum said the man told him that once citizens get used to the new reforms' benefits, they will never want to give them up. Santorum said he felt like he was talking to "a drug dealer on the corner."

"They're trying to addict us … trying to numb us … trying to take the spirit your grandfathers brought here," he said. "With this health care bill, they may have done it." That's why he said this year's election "is the most important election of your lifetime."

The crowd wasn't all Republicans. Howard County states attorney Dario Broccolino, a Democrat, also attended, perhaps trying to discourage a Republican opponent. Candidates for state's attorney should run without party affiliation, like school board candidates, he said. But two nights later, Broccolino showed up at the Democrats' dinner, too, this time sporting an O'Malley-Brown sticker.

HEAD HERE

If it seems conservatives and Republicans are the only groups unhappy with the health care changes Congress approved, think again.

Liberal groups who wanted a single-payer, simplified system but felt shut out of the political process in Washington are still organizing and pushing for a way to weaken the stranglehold they feel big corporations have on Congress through lobbyists and campaign contributions.

MoveOn.org in Howard County drew about 50 people to a brainstorming session at the Central Library in Columbia May 8, and a new group called HoCo Health Care Now is planning a second meeting at 7 p.m. May 18 at the home of Dr. Eric Naumburg on Devon Drive. They're working to find ways to reform the campaign finance system they feel gives corporations the power to write bills and control the government for their own advantage, leaving citizens to pay the freight.

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