- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

As he begins his second year as governor, Robert Ehrlich is quite popular with the Maryland public. According to a recent poll for The Washington Post, as many as 62 percent of Marylanders approve of Mr. Ehrlich’s job performance. But the governor’s personal popularity seems to carry little weight with the Democratic majority in the General Assembly, where the Democratic leadership has become increasingly liberal and aggressive about challenging Mr. Ehrlich and marginalizing the GOP minority. Republicans got a taste of what is to come this week.

On Tuesday, the House joined the Senate in overriding three of Mr. Ehrlich’s vetoes from last spring — marking the first time in 15 years that a Maryland governor’s veto has been overridden. Two of the overrides were on relatively minor bills. The third, however, showed that the legislature is willing and able to defeat the governor when he does the right thing by standing on free-market principle — in this case, vetoing a flawed piece of nanny-state liberal legislation. Lawmakers voted to override Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of a bill giving state bureaucrats the authority to dictate energy efficiency standards for ceiling fans, and heating and air-conditioning units — matters that are best left to buyers and sellers to decide in the marketplace.

But that was just the beginning. That same day, Senate President Mike Miller steamrollered through a change in the 47-member Senate’s rules that reduced from 32 to 29 the number of senators necessary to end a filibuster. This could have major consequences over the next few months, as senators debate hot-button issues ranging from taxes to driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. It’s no secret that Mr. Miller was infuriated last year by the fact that the Senate’s 14 Republicans, joined by a handful of moderate and conservative Democrats, were able to delay passage of tax increase legislation that the Democratic leadership wanted.

Fortunately, Mr. Ehrlich is not without weapons of his own to fight back. For example, Maryland law gives him power over the budget that goes beyond anything granted to governors of other states. Once the governor formally proposes the budget, which Mr. Ehrlich did on Wednesday, it becomes a ceiling on state spending: The General Assembly cannot add money to programs. Legislators are limited largely to cutting spending, enacting mandates and hectoring the governor to do things their way.

Of course, no one in the legislature has the ability to take his case directly to the people of Maryland like Mr. Ehrlich. Over the next three months, he will need to do this again and again to prevent more bad bills from becoming law.

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