Ehrlich rejects question from Democratic Party employee

Calls it 'a no-class move'

August 19, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. accused a state Democratic Party employee of "inappropriate" behavior Thursday when the worker directed a question at the former governor while monitoring a campaign event.

Isaac Salazar, communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party, was not allowed to finish a question about unemployment benefits and Ehrlich ignored his subsequent interview attempts as a lunchtime session with about 30 small-business owners at a Howard County restaurant broke up.

"It's a no-class move to do what he did," Ehrlich said. "It's inappropriate.

He termed the interaction a violation of unwritten rules of the campaign trail.

Political parties and candidates often use operatives to track their opponents and shoot video, hoping for a gaffe or statement they can use to their advantage. Salazar, who was recording the session, is not directly involved in the campaign of Gov. Martin O'Malley, whom Ehrlich is expected to face in the general election.

Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman, said the campaign has not been tracking Ehrlich.

Ehrlich pointed out Salazar at the start of the meeting, which was similar to many business complaint sessions the former governor has organized around the state. Business owners say tough regulation and overly generous unemployment benefits are making it harder to turn a profit in Maryland. Ehrlich has campaigned on a theme of providing a friendlier environment for businesses.

"Can I ask a question?" Salazar called out at one point, trying to say that as governor, Ehrlich signed legislation establishing the unemployment tax formulas that business owners were complaining about.

Several Ehrlich campaign aides told Salazar to be quiet or leave. He remained quiet until the meeting's end and then tried again to question Ehrlich after a brief television interview. But the former governor ignored the questions and brushed past him, leaving the Smokin' Hot to Go Bar and Grille in Glenwood to visit with other shop owners in the small strip mall on Route 97.

Salazar said later that he was trying to set the record straight. He said a man who had complained during the meeting that he had to pay a $300 fee to file a tax form to establish that he owed the state no personal property tax for his start-up business should know that Ehrlich as governor had increased the fee from $100.

Ananta Hejeebu, the business owner, said, "The state does not make it easy for a motivated guy to start a business." He suggested that the state waive the fee for those who owe no tax.

After the meeting, Ehrlich acknowledged that the unemployment tables had been approved on his watch, but said the legislation had been a bipartisan solution to business complaints at the time.

Given the current recession, "it should be revisited," Ehrlich said.

Travis Tazelaar, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said he does not think Salazar was out of line.

"We don't feel it's inappropriate to ask a question," he said. "We need to fact-check" Ehrlich.

Abbruzzese said O'Malley had sponsored a re-examination of the unemployment tables in the past year.

"We brought all the stakeholders together," he said, changing the law to prevent business owners from being hit with huge increases in unemployment payments in a time of severe recession. He said Salazar brought up a valid point.

Ehrlich "should have to answer for actions he took as governor," Abbruzzese said. "He's responsible for many of the things he's complaining about today."

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