Questions for the candidates in the Md. governor's race

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Observers of Maryland politics weigh in on the key questions in the governor's race.

ANN LOLORDO

Former Baltimore Sun editorial writer; communications strategist for a Baltimore-based health nonprofit

When a Baltimore reporter asked former governor Robert Ehrlich to size up a run against Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Republican boasted, "It'll be a Star Wars race" -- which was classic pugnacious (if muddled) Ehrlich. Now that he's in, Ehrlich is talking about a campaign of ideas. He wasn't an ideas guy as governor, but it's going to take some new thinking to resolve Maryland's intractable problems.

A proponent of legalized gambling, Ehrlich couldn't get slots legislation passed. It's the law now, thanks in part to O'Malley's support, but there isn't a slots parlor in sight. What would it take to reinvigorate the prospects for gambling in Maryland and how would each candidate spend state dollars it brought in?

What will the candidates do to slow home foreclosures, help Marylanders remain in their homes and redevelop abandoned properties? How will they meet pension obligations to teachers and state employees in ways that benefit all taxpayers?

O'Malley made higher education a priority, but many members of the Boomerang Generation can't find jobs. How can Maryland create opportunities and improve job prospects for new graduates?

Ehrlich was willing to impose a new tax to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay. What are the next steps? What runoff restrictions should be imposed on farms and developments?

The 2010 gubernatorial election should offer Marylanders straight talk, honest assessments of our problems and candid appraisals on how to resolve them. Let's leave the hyperbole and galactic slams to Hollywood screenwriters.

DONALD KETTL

Dean, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland

This campaign is destined to revolve around three things: jobs, jobs, jobs.

Robert Ehrlich argues Martin O'Malley hiked the state sales tax and kicked the budget can down the road. "We know they raised taxes, and we tried to cut them," he told a Rockville crowd. Ehrlich pledges to cut taxes to make the state friendlier to the small businesses that grow jobs.

O'Malley counters with his "Jobs Across Maryland" tour, which has taken him across the state to communicate his commitment to opportunity for everyone. "There is no government program that is as important or as empowering as a job for helping a family put food on the table, pay the electric bill, and send their kids to college," he says.

Whose approach will appeal more to voters worried about where Maryland is heading? A recent Rasmussen national poll paints the issue sharply. A majority of Democrats think the country is on the right track. An even larger majority of Republicans think we're heading in the wrong direction. Will Ehrlich or O'Malley win the war on the state's direction? Jobs -- and how to grow them -- will be the key.

P. KENNETH BURNS

Blogger, Maryland Politics Today

The last Maryland administration to raise the sales tax before Gov. Martin O'Malley -- the Mandel-Lee governorship way back in the late '70s -- met defeat at the polls. While O'Malley has stated that he will let another of the taxes he has imposed -- the millionaires' tax -- expire, this isn't going to help him explain to ordinary voters what he will do to ease their high tax burdens. The economy remains shaky, and voters are most concerned about their budgets and their jobs.

Robert Ehrlich, O'Malley's challenger and immediate predecessor, will have to answer the same question. He would have to operate under the same economic conditions O'Malley is dealing with. And both candidates will have to answer this: How are you going to get slots back on track, considering that neighboring states are fast beefing up to battle Maryland?

GARRETT EPPS

University of Baltimore law professor, author of the "The Shad Treatment," a fictionalized account of a Virginia governor's race.

Martin O'Malley has the good luck to be caught in a revolution of falling expectations. Given the horrific economic climate, he's just, well, not that bad -- and that can be a strong position in politics. Tax increases are unpopular, but school cuts are more so, and he can claim to have avoided the worst.

But Robert Ehrlich is a flawed messenger. He has to play Hillary Clinton to his own Bill Clinton and convince angry voters that what they need is not change but more of an earlier same. It's the toughest sell in politics: Most voters who remember you don't like you, and, worse, many don't remember you at all.

If Ehrlich's "back to the future" campaign gains traction in a state as blue as Maryland, we'll know it's going to be a GOP blowout across the country.

TIM MALONEY

Lawyer and former Maryland legislator. He is an occasional adviser to the O'Malley campaign.

Politicians generally fall into two types, those who want to be something, and those who want to do something. Robert Ehrlich clearly wants to be governor again. But can he convince voters that he is really interested in governing?

Ehrlich's term is remembered mostly for tuition increases, partisan bickering and personnel scandals. What would be different this time?

These days, Ehrlich holds himself out as part of the Tea Party crowd. But he increased spending by 33 percent. (O'Malley cut spending by 3 percent.) Where would Ehrlich cut now? What's the Ehrlich vision?

In these tough economic times, O'Malley also faces the questions challenging every incumbent governor today: How can the state realize its goals in transportation, education and health care amid such extraordinary economic conditions? This is a fundamental question not just for O'Malley and Ehrlich, but for all Marylanders.

TONY PASSARO

Founder, Bel Air Tea Party; co-founder, Harford County Tea Party Coalition

Bob Ehrlich is an excellent candidate. He wants to see Maryland succeed, he wants to ease the tax burden, and he wants to see business flock to the state. But if the Republicans, the Tea Party and the conservatives fail to get more conservatives elected to General Assembly, it's all a waste of time. He could reign but not rule. What's the sense of giving us a great governor if he doesn't have a legislature that can pass legislation for him? What will he do to get other conservatives elected?


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