- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Conventional political wisdom holds that Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, needs at least one or two high-profile victories out of the Democratic legislature this year to bolster his record as he approaches the 2006 election.

Re-election campaigns usually are based on a public official’s accomplishments, emphasizing programs adopted in response to pressing needs. However, Maryland Democrats are starting to say Mr. Ehrlich has a meager list of such accomplishments at the midpoint of his first term as governor, and they anticipate running a campaign next year that would try to peg him as a do-nothing governor.

Republicans dispute the Democrats’ claim about a lack of accomplishments in the past two years. They cite big increases in funding for public schools, a $1 billion program to protect the Chesapeake Bay by upgrading sewage-treatment plants and putting the Intercounty Connector highway in the Washington suburbs on track for construction after decades of delay.

They also say Democrats are behind the times in assuming that voters want governors to enact a lot of big, flashy new programs.

Mr. Ehrlich says Democrats have a mind-set that “if you’re not creating lots of new programs and bureaucracies, you’re by definition not successful.”

“That’s not where we are,” he said. “We ran on a platform of … curtailing this unlimited and seemingly limitless expansion of government and taxes.”

Kevin Igoe, a political consultant who works with Republican candidates in Maryland, said the modern conservative philosophy of government is to “do a few things and do them well, not to enhance the nanny state of government by doing everything for everyone.”

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, said Mr. Ehrlich “dropped the ball” on medical-malpractice insurance reform, and the governor has not “taken up the reins” to solve the state’s financial problems and that the state’s juvenile services are in a “crisis” situation.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a potential Democratic candidate for governor, said Mr. Ehrlich has “brought Capitol Hill-style gridlock politics to Annapolis.”

“This current administration has no real interest in getting things done,” Mr. Duncan said. “This administration chooses politics over people.”

Democrats also complain that Mr. Ehrlich’s actions are driven by a never-ending political campaign, not by the needs of the state.

Republicans argue the governor has a solid record of accomplishment, despite failure on two of his most important legislative goals: legalization of slot machines and strong legal reform to reduce the volume of lawsuits and payments to people who file claims alleging negligence by doctors.

Mr. Ehrlich said he probably will offer a slot machine bill this year for the third time, but he still doesn’t know how he will overcome opposition in the House of Delegates led by Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.

The governor called a special session on medical-malpractice insurance reform but was so unhappy with the bill the General Assembly passed that he vetoed it. The legislature overrode the veto and the bill is now law, but Mr. Ehrlich said he will offer a new bill in this session with stricter limits on lawsuits.

Mr. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat, said Mr. Ehrlich could have played a larger role in deciding what went into the malpractice law if he had been willing to compromise on the use of a 2 percent tax on HMO premiums. The money from the tax will be used to hold down the cost of doctors’ premiums until the legal reforms have time to take effect.

Mr. Ehrlich plans to build on his record before the 2006 campaign. He said he will have a sizable agenda this year that will include more money for school construction, driving restrictions to reduce accidents and deaths among young drivers, stricter penalties for people who try to intimidate witnesses in criminal cases, more medical-malpractice reform and probably slot machines.

He will also have one last pre-election shot at the General Assembly at the 2006 session.

Even if he has no additional legislative victories, Mr. Ehrlich said he is proud of a record that includes overcoming budget deficits for the past two years while continuing to increase school aid and upgrading the state’s economic development office to make Maryland a more attractive place to do business.

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