Maryland Democrats need more than a label to win

January 18, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Is it just me, or does the cheerleading being done by Maryland's top Democrats, including Senate President Mike Miller, have an air of desperation about it?

On Jan. 10, Miller said that the lawmakers' first order of business would be to override Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto of the so-called Wal-Mart bill.

Then, Miller said, Democrats will go after Ehrlich - and any other Republican they can whip - until election day when the state's Dems will all sing "Happy Days Are Here Again."

But which happy days are we talking about? The ones when Gov. Parris Glendening ignored warnings about overspending and the legislature went along?


The ones when Democratic legislators passed an educational reform bill based on the recommendations of the Thornton Commission with no idea how they would pay for it?

Do Miller and company really believe the state would have a surplus now if Kathleen Kennedy Townsend had been elected? More important, do those same Democrats believe that Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley or Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan can do the job better?

In September, Duncan said that O'Malley and Ehrlich were too busy playing "the blame game" to solve problems.

Duncan said that on the malpractice issue, the governor missed a major opportunity to show leadership and accept a compromise instead of vetoing the bill that even sponsors admit was only a stopgap measure.

It would almost be fun to watch Duncan wrestle with fellow Democrats on that issue. Doctors are getting help with their premiums, but comprehensive reform will require a knock-down drag-out fight.

And in a state whose residents have become acutely interested in questions about land use and development, Duncan will face questions about what happened in Clarksburg, Md.

Writing in the Gazette newspaper in September, Derick Berlage, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board, said the county council was probing how "developers built numerous buildings too tall and too close to the streets in Clarksburg Town Center."

If you're wondering about how many "numerous" is, the Sept. 21 Gazette said that 500 (!) homes were built too tall and 100 were built too close to the street. While here, Duncan called for the reinvigoration of the state's "Smart Growth" office, but the Clarksburg fiasco erodes Duncan's credibility as the defender of the state's planning process, not to mention its open space.

O'Malley has troubles of his own. He's gotten about as much mileage as he can about Ehrlich aide Joseph Steffen's attempt to fuel rumors that the mayor's marriage was on shaky ground.

To prevail, O'Malley will have to convince voters that he would manage the state's finances better than he has managed, for example, his city's police department.

According to The (Baltimore) Sun of Nov. 11, 2004, O'Malley was just ushering in the city's fourth police commissioner in five years.

The Sun noted then that previous O'Malley appointees included Edward T. Norris, later convicted of federal corruption charges and Kevin P. Clark, dismissed after a domestic dispute at his home, not the first, according to a Howard County, Md., police report.

All that said, Ehrlich has not been perfect. After campaigning on a pledge to legalize slots, he seemed to have no clear idea of how to follow through. That left a big opening for House Speaker Michael Busch, a foe of slots, to torpedo the bill.

In my view, party loyalty kept the veteran Miller from squeezing rookie Busch to OK slots, but both must know that the state's current surplus won't last forever.

Why? Because residents whose property assessments have soared are demanding relief, while others who ignored remedies already available under the law are exploring them now, I'm certain.

Ehrlich won last time because so many had doubts about the Democratic candidate that they decided to give a chance to a GOP candidate who seemed like a reasonable alternative.

If the Democrats want to knock Ehrlich out of office, they need to demonstrate to voters that they have better ideas and stronger, more competent leaders. Doing that will require more than slapping a party label on this year's challenger.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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