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Political Animal

Bobby’s Last Stand

By Brian Morton | Posted 1/4/2006

Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. At the end of the last session of the Maryland legislature, Gov. Robert “Bobby Smooth” Ehrlich gave himself a “B” grade. Apparently there’s some grade inflation going on, and it’s not in Baltimore City schools—it’s in the governor’s head.

Last April, Ehrlich told Tom Stuckey of the Associated Press that he had low expectations coming into the 2005 session, so he thinks he done good. Which is nice, if you consider the fact that for three years running, Ehrlich hasn’t been able to get a slots bill all the way to his desk—even when House Speaker Michael Busch wrangled one through with the bare minimum of votes necessary for passage. Like the way Congress works in Washington these days, compromise isn’t good enough for Bobby: It’s gotta be his way or no way.

So he’s left with such astounding successes as extending the length of time teenagers have to drive on learner’s permits, subsidies for Maryland’s film industry, and a bill on witness intimidation. For a state with one of the strongest “strong governor” systems in the country, that’s pretty thin gruel to brag about.

But what do you want from a governor who’d rather grip-and-grin with his base during the session than actually go down and try to wrangle votes with lawmakers? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with going out and hangin’ wit’ yo’ peeps, but work time is work time. You’d think he could figure a way to do his Bobby Comes to Your Neighborhood shtick during the other eight months of the year when there aren’t laws to be passed. State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, was quoted saying that the governor thinks he can go straight to the public to lobby lawmakers: “The governor has been effective using this method at times, but at other times it’s been very frustrating.”

You think?

Around Christmas the governor e-mailed his supporters bragging about his record: “I am proud of my record and I believe if we are able to communicate the Ehrlich record, we will earn the votes of all Marylanders: Republicans, Democrats and Independents, just like we did in 2002!” You’ll note the good gub’ner doesn’t cite any actual facts. Another e-mail claimed that he “made historic investments in health care for the poor.” Well, if you consider a veto of a bill that would make Wal-Mart pay its fair share of health-care costs instead of letting the giant retailer dump them onto the federal Medicare system a “historic investment,” then I guess that’s true.

Ehrlich also proved he’s no moderate at the end of the session, vetoing a bill that would create a “domestic partner registry”—which, if you look carefully, affects more than just gay couples—and another that would give unmarried couples medical-visitation and funeral-arrangement rights. As usual, he reverted to the language of the wack-job Right, which claims that such rights “threaten traditional marriage.” I still can’t get my head around the claim that if unmarried people have these rights it would cause the governor’s own marriage to explode. Hell, you’d think the three marriages of Ehrlich’s mentor, Newt Gingrich, would have caused that a long time ago.

And, as usual, Bobby proved whose pocket he is in as he vetoed a minimum-wage increase of a dollar, which would have lifted the Maryland rate over the federal rate of $5.15 an hour, which has stood since September 1997. Since that time, Republicans in Washington have passed no fewer than four tax cuts aimed at the wealthy, but every time someone proposes a minimum-wage increase, conservatives like Ehrlich wail that small business will be hurt, thus cutting the overall number of low-wage jobs available. Maybe they could plow some of those Bush tax cuts into those jobs, huh?

Bobby Le Smooth is entering 2006, an election year, virtually assured of at least two veto overrides: the minimum-wage and Wal-Mart bills. In addition, he still has to cope with the committee probing into all those politically motivated firings of state employees that came about due to his handpicked hatchet man Joseph Steffen. While the legislature is out, much of what the committee puts out gets play in the papers, but the attention will get ratcheted up several notches when all the lawmakers are back in Annapolis. This sort of thing won’t help the governor project that warm and fuzzy moderate image he’ll need for a full-blown campaign summer.

But you can bet that he’ll be all over WBAL Radio, with its right-wing local Limbaughs, who will toss him softball questions and let him go on about those mean Democrats who won’t let him do anything he wants. If there’s anything this governor loves, just like the president, it’s a friendly audience who won’t bring up the fact that he issued 25 vetoes on a Preakness Friday.

Once again, politics fans, it’s time to drag up a chair and watch the games begin. Bobby Smooth has four months to try and make it look like he’s the man he thinks he is, and just like last year, the bar is set pretty darn low. Annapolis, ho!

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