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It's Lights, Camera, Ehrlichs As Television Spots Multiply

By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 14, 2004; Page PG14

With his slick tourism ads, his promotion of the Maryland Million horse race and a new TV campaign for the Motor Vehicle Administration, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has developed a bit of an acting bug.

And apparently it's contagious.

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Md. Legislature

First lady Kendel Ehrlich has quietly accumulated her own long list of television credits, to which she will add her latest public service announcement, a spot promoting the state's new "safe haven" law. The law aims to prevent the death of abandoned newborns by offering parents a way to give up an unwanted baby safely, without fear of prosecution.

The ad has not created any of the unrest among Democrats that arose when state tourism commercials -- starring the governor, but also featuring Kendel Ehrlich and son Drew -- aired. Democrats complained Ehrlich was using taxpayer money to finance a variety of TV commercials that amounted to blatant self-promotion.

For the first lady, self-promotion has taken a back seat to causes she supports. In the past two years, she has done spots promoting holiday shopping, nutrition and exercise, and breast cancer awareness. She also brought son Drew in for an ad about child booster seats ("the Drew-ster needs a booster.")

Spokeswoman Meghann Siwinski said that Kendel Ehrlich's most popular ad dealt with underage drinking. It featured her alongside her husband and University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams.

During an appearance last week at an Annapolis boat show, Ehrlich argued that his efforts to promote Maryland tourism are paying off.

"Salesman-in-chief is an important part of the chief executive's job," Ehrlich said.

Media Critic-in-Chief

Besides acting, the governor has also been wearing the hat of media critic. At a Board of Public Works meeting last week, Ehrlich called reports about a leaked memo on possible health budget cuts "lousy journalism."

Both The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun carried stories recently about $480 million in possible cuts drawn up by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"It's nothing," Ehrlich said. "It's not a news story."

The document was generated as part of a "strategic budgeting" process in which agencies have been asked to detail what would happen if they had only 88 percent of this year's funding. The Ehrlich administration is conducting the exercise as it crafts the state's 2006 fiscal year budget.

Some of the possible health cuts drew flak from Democratic lawmakers, including a reduction in funding for a breast cancer and cervical cancer treatment program.

According to the document, "the impact would be that an estimated 1,200 uninsured, low-income clients would face financial barriers to care for breast and cervical cancer treatment services and may die as a result."

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