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Herald-Mail Endorsement - Ehrlich for governor

October 15, 2006

In the polls, the race for Maryland governor is close. It shouldn't be. Gov. Robert Ehrlich has done what he set out to do - put the brakes on spending and start getting Maryland's financial house in order.

The important items he hasn't succeeded with - legalizing slot machines at the state's horse tracks and reforming the state's medical malpractice laws - failed because a legislature dominated by Democrats blocked them.

These Democrats are the legislative leaders that backed electricity deregulation in 1999, then forgot about it until this year, when Baltimore Gas & Electric proposed a whopping 72 percent increase for its customers.

These are the leaders who backed the Thornton Commission's educational reforms for the state, but failed to identify a way to pay for them.

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And these are the leaders who went along with former Gov. Parris Glendening's plan to settle a suit seeking millions more for the Baltimore City school system by giving the system millions more without mandating that the system have some firm performance benchmarks.

Then, when the state proposed a takeover of the system because it had failed to deliver promised services to special-education students, Baltimore officials claimed that they were being treated unfairly.

Democrats that takeover of the system, a measure which had been threatened since 1999, even though the federal government threatened to reduce special-education money to every system in the state if there weren't improvements.

These are the people who back Mayor Martin O'Malley, who, like his Democratic predecessors, has big plans, but is a bit vague about how he will pay for them.

On Tuesday, O'Malley told The Washington Post that he would like create health insurance polls for small businesses and boost funding for school construction and land preservation.

Some of the money would come from the federal government, he said, adding that it would be irresponsible to say he wouldn't raise taxes during his term.

O'Malley isn't saying much about law enforcement, which is good. He's had a series of police commissioners, one of whom went to prison for spending public funds on things he shouldn't have, including gifts for girlfriends.

Ehrlich's performance in office hasn't been perfect. Considering the Maryland's governor has a tremendous amount of power over the budget, he hasn't used it to build alliances.

His feud with some newspaper reporters was just plain silly. Every smart elected official knows how to deal with the press, or at least to co-exist with journalists. Ehrlich's not stupid, so we must conclude he's getting bad advice from somebody.

Some of his appointments were also questionable, including that of Joseph Steffen, who was fired after it was learned that he was spreading gossip to the effect that O'Malley's marriage was in trouble.

But on balance, Ehrlich has done about as well as he could have, considering Democratic attempts to hobble him. Does anyone doubt that if O'Malley is elected, he will soon discover the need for more cash and back slots to get it?

Ehrlich will face the same fight if re-elected, but the prospect of going back to the way it was during the Glendening years does not appeal to us. Our endorsement goes to Ehrlich.

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