Ehrlich to write weekly column for Sun

Former governor says deal closes chapter on strained history

January 21, 2012|By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

Former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who had a tumultuous relationship with The Baltimore Sun while in office, will now contribute regularly to its pages, writing a column focused on national politics.

Ehrlich, who was Maryland's governor from 2003 to 2007, said the weekly op-ed column will offer an outlet for his writing as well as a platform to reach a broader audience. The column will appear Sundays, starting Jan. 29.

"I think both sides had to think very long and hard" about the arrangement, said Ehrlich, who acknowledged that close advisers expressed mixed reactions, given his strained history with the newspaper. "In a very real sense, it marks a closed chapter."

The level of animosity between The Sun and the former governor was extraordinary even in an era when politicians and the press often play adversarial roles. Ehrlich shunned the paper after a 2002 editorial endorsed his Democratic opponent for governor. The editorial said Ehrlich's running mate, then state GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele, was chosen for the ticket because he was black, prompting outrage from Republicans.

Then, after a series of articles that he felt were biased, about a state plan to sell preserved forestland to a construction company owner, Ehrlich banned state employees from speaking with two of the paper's reporters in 2004. The Sun sued the Ehrlich administration that year in an attempt to lift the ban but lost in federal court.

Ehrlich, who served four terms in the House of Representatives before winning the 2002 governor's election, follows conservative WBAL radio host Ron Smith in the columnist role. Smith, who began writing for The Sun in 2008, died last month of pancreatic cancer.

Ehrlich said his inaugural column will address his decision to write for the paper. His second will pay tribute to Smith.

Andrew A. Green, The Sun's opinion editor and a former State House reporter who covered the Ehrlich administration for the paper, said he reached out to Ehrlich to float the idea of a regular column shortly after the former governor wrote an op-ed piece in November about presidential pardons.

"We wanted somebody who could bring a strong conservative voice to the page, somebody readers would know and be interested to hear" from, Green said. "I don't think there's anybody who fits that in Maryland better than Bob Ehrlich does."

Asked about the paper's history with Ehrlich, Green said: "We've moved on, and he's moved on."

Ehrlich is a partner at the King & Spalding law firm and is state chairman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign. He recently published a book on national politics titled "Turn this Car Around." He was defeated by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2006 and again in 2010.

Matthew Verghese, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, wished Ehrlich well but suggested that the column was part of an effort by the former governor to "regain relevance and rehabilitate his image."

But John Porter, a spokesman for the Maryland Republican Party, defended Ehrlich's record as governor, arguing that he "displayed the ability to reach across the aisle in search of real solutions" and said the paper's readers are "lucky to have insight from such an intelligent and prominent figure."

Green said The Sun has a one-year agreement with Ehrlich that may be renewed. He said the governor will be paid for the column, but neither Green nor Ehrlich would disclose the amount.

In terms of editorial control, Green said Ehrlich will be treated the same as any other op-ed contributor.

"We're not telling him what to say," Green said. "We want these people on the page for their voice and their point of view."

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