First Click, Maryland: Fact checking how Prince George's fared under Ehrlich and O'Malley
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 3:11 PM
Your daily download of political news and analysis: 13 days to go until the election Click here to receive First Click in a morning e-mail. Wednesday, October 20, 2010: The Fact Checker With the two leading candidates for governor spending an increasing amount of time in voter-rich Prince George's County, former GOP governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made the provocative suggestion that the heavily Democratic jurisdiction fared better during his tenure than during that of his rival, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). Ehrlich has twice in recent days challenged reporters to ask outgoing County Executive Jack B. Johnson for his view. We have yet to track down Johnson's answer, but it's a question we'll try to address with some numbers and help from other county leaders. During the televised debate at the Washington Post last week, Ehrlich played up his relationship with Johnson: "Ask Jack Johnson to compare and contrast how Prince George's has been treated by the Ehrlich administration as opposed to the O'Malley administration." Ehrlich reiterated that challenge Saturday during a rally with about 200 people at the Lake Presidential Golf Club: "You ask Jack Johnson who was the best governor for Prince George's County," Ehrlich said, adding, "Of course, the man loves golf, so you've got to love him." Johnson did not return numerous phone messages left with his spokesman James Keary in the days after the debate or on Tuesday. The Post tried to catch up with Johnson Saturday at an O'Malley event in Oxon Hill that the campaign had advertised as including Johnson. But the county executive never showed. He was running late, an O'Malley campaign aide said, and he eventually did join O'Malley at a Boys and Girls Club homecoming game nearby where he posed for pictures with the governor. At O'Malley's event in Oxon Hill Saturday, the governor made the case that Prince George's has benefited during his four years despite the lousy economic climate. Specifically, O'Malley said his administration invested $40 million in the long-troubled Prince George's hospital system compared to what he said was the $10 million invested by Ehrlich's administration. Indeed, two years ago, O'Malley and Johnson struck a deal to create an independent panel to find a health-care company to take over the system. At the time, the state and county each agreed to invest $12 million-a-year for two years. Another $15 million was included in the fiscal 2011 operating budget for a total of $39 million - a number consistent with O'Malley's assertion. But the governor's figure of $10 million for Ehrlich sells the former Republican governor somewhat short because it does not include capital funding. In 2006, Johnson and Ehrlich also made a deal to keep the hospital open that included an infusion of state money. During his tenure, according to the Department of Legislative Services, the state spent $11.3 million in operating funds plus $13.3 million in capital funds for a total of $24.6 million for the hospital. Johnson may not want to settle the debate at the risk of offending either candidate. By all accounts, the Democratic county executive and Ehrlich had a strong personal relationship, even playing golf together. So we turned to Prince George's County Del. Dereck E. Davis for some local perspective. He too described a good personal rapport with the former Republican governor, and said he appreciated Ehrlich's attempts to help the county while in office. Even so, Davis said politically, there's no question he's with O'Malley. At the top of the list, Davis said, is O'Malley's commitment to fund an education program that sends millions of additional dollars to Prince George's. Ehrlich has refused to commit to the program, which is set to provide nearly $39 million to Prince George's because of its high education costs associated with needy students, the cost of living and other factors. Davis said he also favors light rail, instead of an Ehrlich-backed plan for a rapid bus system for the proposed Purple Line connection between Bethesda and New Carrollton. "Unequivocally, enthusiastically, I'm doing everything I can to get O'Malley reelected," Davis said, while acknowledging the uncomfortable nature of the question."There's no doubt about where I'm at." -- Ann E. Marimow News You Should Know O'Malley's data-driven, detail-obsessed governing "Much has been written about O'Malley's love for Irish poetry, quotation and Scripture, which infuse his public speeches with soaring phrase. But behind the high-minded rhetoric," The Post's Aaron C. Davis reports that a review of his daily briefing book and interviews "reveal a pragmatic chief executive who is focused more on smaller, short-term goals and who is always in a near-constant state of planning or evaluation - and virtually never unplugged." Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and other Democrats "mostly laud O'Malley, saying his relentless hard work helped bring the factions of the majority party together quickly to pass the package of tax increases and put a slots referendum on the ballot that allowed Maryland to keep its budget balanced during the ensuing downturn. Republicans and some critics of O'Malley in his party see his hard-charging approach differently. They say he pumped up spending in his first year to pay for expanding health care, school construction and other campaign promises, making a massive tax increase all but inevitable at the worst possible time for Maryland families and businesses, at the outset of the national recession." No clear winner in gambling poll Moneyed interests are spending heavily to influence the outcome of an Anne Arundel County ballot measure affecting the future of the state's largest planned slots casino, and a new poll suggests the election could go either way, The Post's John Wagner reports. "Forty-eight percent of registered voters in the county support the measure, known as Question A, while 45 percent say they would vote against it, according to the poll by Gonzales Research Marketing Strategies. Another 7 percent are undecided." Maryland court approves emergency rules on foreclosures "Maryland courts got the go-ahead Tuesday to conduct sweeping reviews of possibly thousands of foreclosure cases to root out those with problematic or fraudulent documentation, while the federal government separately announced investigations into national foreclosure practices," The Baltimore Sun's Jamie Smith Hopkins reports. "The state's highest court approved emergency rules to allow the hiring of part-time examiners to scrutinize paperwork ... O'Malley and the Maryland congressional delegation asked the leader of the Court of Appeals to halt foreclosures for at least 60 days. In a letter provided Tuesday to The Baltimore Sun, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell replied that he does not believe he has that authority. But Bell noted in the letter, sent to the governor on Friday, that the court would consider changes in foreclosure rules to address 'what may be a widespread problem' with documentation." Ambulance fee backers armed for election battle Supporters of Montgomery County's ambulance fee outlined Tuesday "what they promised will be a broad-based campaign, including direct mail and get-out-the-vote efforts, to win residents' support Nov. 2," writes The Post's Michael Laris. Proponents of the fee registered an issue committee called Vote for A, led by Del. Sheila Hixon, chair of the House Ways and Means committee, who was among the state legislators, county officials, representatives of public employee unions, and social services advocates who rallied support Tuesday. Ehrlich takes positions unpopular on critical Montgomery issues The former Republican governor "is risking Montgomery County votes by opposing the popular Purple Line project and, more recently, supporting an education funding formula that would cost the county millions," reports The Gazette's Erin Cunningham. "While Ehrlich made an early push for Montgomery County votes -- launching his campaign in Rockville and putting Potomac resident Mary Kane on the ticket -- some now question whether he has given up on voters in the state's most populous jurisdiction...Ehrlich's campaign rejected the assertions, however, he acknowledged to The Gazette editorial board recently that the election would be won or lost in the Baltimore suburbs. 'Some of those positions are controversial, but [Ehrlich] believes in telling people the truth about what we can and cannot do,' said Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth." WTOP debate postponed due to funeral Aides to O'Malley and Ehrlich said the two candidates will not be able to make the 10 a.m. debate on WTOP because they plan to attend the funeral of Betty Peebles, the co-founder of a Prince George's megachurch, Wagner reports. Peebles, who led Jericho City of Praise since her husband's death 14 years ago and spearheaded its transformation into a church with 19,000 congregants, died Oct. 12 of cancer at age 76. Quotables "I don't look at the BlackBerry at Mass, and I don't look at the BlackBerry when Katie and I are out. When I'm asleep, I don't look at it, but I'm probably imagining that I'm reading it." -- Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), referring to rare date nights with his wife. "We'll be up on Washington TV a lot. ... We obviously have the dollars. ... The dollars are coming in fast and furious. It reminds me a lot of 2002." -- former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), arguing to reporters that his campaign is on track after reporting having $1.7 million in the bank for the closing two weeks. ----- Trust First Click for critical news and analysis you need to navigate Maryland politics each weekday. You can also find First Click on Facebook and Twitter.