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Ehrlich Counts on Unorthodox Appeals to Clinch His Agenda

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 11, 2005; Page A01

As time was running out on the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day session last week, just three of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s 19 policy initiatives had cleared the legislature. So the Republican governor did what he often does in a fix: He hit the airwaves.

Ehrlich (R) held a rapid-fire series of televised events last week. He surrounded himself with cheerful Annapolis schoolchildren to promote his bill to strengthen the Office for Children, Youth and Families. He pushed for slots while crews filmed him sliding $20 bills into a Chesapeake Beach resort's electronic bingo machines. He draped his arm around veterans to promote his plan to give them a tax break.

Ehrlich's major initiatives have gotten snagged this session. (Robert A. Reeder - The Washington Post)

Md. General Assembly: Post reporter Matthew A. Mosk was online to discuss the end of the session.
_____From The Post_____
Some of Ehrlich's Initiatives (The Washington Post, Apr 11, 2005)
_____Slot Machines_____
Md. Slots Push Comes Down to The Wire (The Washington Post, Apr 9, 2005)
More Betting on Pa. Breeders (The Washington Post, Apr 8, 2005)
Ehrlich Takes A Gamble In Calvert (The Washington Post, Apr 7, 2005)
Ehrlich Renews Push For Slots Compromise (The Washington Post, Apr 1, 2005)
More on Slot Machines

And he worked the talk radio circuit vigorously Friday and Saturday morning as the state Republican party blasted e-mails to its rank and file urging them to "please call in and voice your support for the governor and his initiatives."

A traditional Annapolis lobbying campaign this was not. In a city long dominated by Democrats, and where lawmakers have grown accustomed to governors who backslap and cajole and cut deals, Ehrlich's style represents a notable shift.

"This is divided government," said Republican strategist Kevin Igoe. "He understands he has to put pressure on lawmakers in other ways. It's no longer just a matter of going into the party caucus and saying, 'If you can't support something in my agenda, please let me know.' "

As lawmakers convene in Annapolis today for the final hours of the 2005 session, their votes will help determine whether Ehrlich's strategy is working. Local insiders say they see signs that it is not. With just one day left in the legislative session, Ehrlich's agenda remains largely unresolved.

The governor acknowledged over the weekend that the two issues he most prizes -- legalization of slot machine gambling and further changes in medical malpractice laws -- appear headed for a third consecutive year of defeat. Another priority, increasing penalties for witness intimidation, is expected to pass today after weeks of inaction. The rest of his agenda has been scaled back to include a handful of tax incentives and some child-friendly proposals engineered to deliver at least a few clear-cut legislative victories.

Paul E. Schurick, Ehrlich's communications director, said the governor believes the session has gone well. Ehrlich, he said, is not counting the number of administration bills that reach his desk. "We look only at their quality."

Democratic leaders said last week that the fate of the governor's agenda rests not with them, but with a lobbying strategy that has relied more on public relations than on grunt work.

Asked for his opinion on the governor's lobbying effort, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) looked puzzled and replied: "What lobbying effort?"

An Insular Approach

In a corner of Lawyer's Mall, the spacious brick courtyard at the foot of the State House steps, chief administration lobbyist Kenneth H. Masters was enveloped in the aroma of English blend pipe tobacco, and settled in a pose of relaxed contemplation.

The image of Masters -- in his corner of the courtyard, smoking his pipe and speaking to no one -- has for many lawmakers become the most potent symbol of the governor's lobbying approach.

"It's the only time I ever see him," Busch said. "These guys don't communicate, they don't share information, they don't negotiate. They stand off to the side, isolated." Others agree.

"I haven't heard one thing from them on anything," said Sen. Paula C. Hollinger (D-Baltimore County), who chairs the committee that handles legislation dealing with the environment and education. "I think they think our committee doesn't exist."

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