Fact Checker

Putting candidates' assertions under the microscope

By Ann E. Marimow and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 15, 2010

In a fast-paced debate on Thursday, the leading candidates in the Maryland governor's race - Martin O'Malley (D) and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) - highlighted their sharp philosophical differences on taxes, immigration, the state's business climate and the fate of the Purple Line.

How accurate were the candidates' assertions?

State spending

Before the debate began, O'Malley's campaign distributed a booklet that credits the current governor with cutting state spending by 3 percent during his term. The number refers to general-fund spending. That's one way to look at the figures. But total appropriations increased 1.2 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to a legislative report, and the operating budget for that period rose 7.2 percent. That's not a big number over four years, but it is an increase - not a decrease, as O'Malley suggests.

"They all pick the numbers they like the best, and they are all real numbers," said the state's chief legislative policy analyst, Warren G. Deschenaux. In fact, by Deschenaux's calculations, general-fund spending decreased by a greater percentage.


Perhaps the most emotional exchange of the debate came in response to a question about spending taxpayer money to support organizations that assist illegal immigrants. O'Malley said he would not support groups that "conspire to break the law."

Ehrlich criticized O'Malley for using state dollars to help the immigrant advocacy group CASA of Maryland. "You, in fact, celebrated CASA de Maryland," Ehrlich said. "You know CASA de Maryland has used tax money to produce booklets that assist illegal immigrants from the reach of the law."

The booklet, "Know Your Rights! Learn How to Protect You and Your Family During Immigration Raids, " is meant to provide immigrants with information about constitutional rights, according to CASA.

Ehrlich faulted O'Malley for attending a celebration of CASA's new headquarters in Langley Park. But Ehrlich did not mention that the state provided at least $380,000 to support CASA's new headquarters during his tenure, according to the group. Ehrlich's spokesman, Henry Fawell, said the former governor supports groups that help "legal immigrants assimilate in the U.S. In light of this booklet, Bob Ehrlich believes CASA is no longer meeting that standard, and they will not be funded in his administration."

Bipartisan politics

When Ehrlich was asked how he would work with the likely incoming Democratic leaders of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the former governor fondly recalled his "pretty good" relationships with Douglas M. Duncan, the former Montgomery executive who ran against O'Malley in 2006, and Jack B. Johnson, the outgoing Prince George's executive.

"He is right," Duncan said Thursday. Although Ehrlich and Duncan battled on education and immigration, they worked together on the 18.8-mile Intercounty Connector. "I'll give him credit on that. He really went to the Bush administration and got it moving," Duncan said. Duncan noted that they became friends after he dropped out of the governor's race in 2006 to battle depression. Ehrlich and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) "took the time to look after me and see how I was doing. That really meant a lot to me."

Bus vs. rail

O'Malley said that Ehrlich's enthusiasm for bus rapid transit over light rail would be an unwise investment for the proposed Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

"Doing it as bus rapid transit is a bit of a metaphor for the former Ehrlich administration: It's more expensive, and it's less effective," O'Malley said.

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