When Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said recently that he wanted Maryland business groups to become "dangerous," his goal was to offer a rallying cry.
Now he's talking about "bottom-line results."
In a frank discussion with board members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this week, the governor urged them to help turn business leaders into a political force that can raise and distribute campaign money, lobby lawmakers and rally around initiatives that interest them.
John Kane, who chairs the Maryland Republican Party, said that his office will be involved in the effort, which, he added, will involve an orchestrated drive to divert dollars away from specific Democratic incumbents who have not had, in his view, a pro-business voting record.
"It's not going to be like politics as usual down here," Kane said. "It's going to get ugly."
By ugly, Kane said he meant the effort would involve specific targets, such as House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who already has been the subject of GOP attacks, in part due to his opposition to the governor's proposals for slot machine gambling.
Kane said business groups will be urged to "stop rewarding bad behavior" by giving donations to Busch. "We want to reward good behavior, and will have slate candidates who will do the right thing. And we want support for those candidates," Kane said.
Ehrlich said in an interview Monday that the effort will mean "helping us gain Republican seats [in the Maryland General Assembly], but it does not stop there."
He said he wants a political force for business that matches the efforts of the more-traditionally liberal-leaning groups, such as environmentalists and organized labor.
Right now, he told chamber of commerce officials, business leaders are hedging their bets by supporting incumbents and backing candidates who might win, regardless of how they vote when they're in office.
Ehrlich said he's not sure yet what type of organization this effort would produce. And he's not sure how much he'll say if the effort yields results.
"To what extent it will be public, or will be widely known, that remains to be seen," he said.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has been circulating throughout the state in recent weeks, with political events in Charles, Washington and Garrett counties.
But the latest sign that the Democratic mayor may be laying the groundwork for a run for governor in 2006 comes by way of Lanny J. Davis, former White House special counsel under President Bill Clinton.
Davis, who lives in Potomac and whose political history in Montgomery County goes back to his days as former County Executive Sid Kramer's campaign manager, has helped organize a "coffee" for O'Malley on June 1.
The invitation, which went out to a number of area politicians, does not betray any political purpose for the event. In fact, it specifically says the 7:30 p.m. coffee at the Cabin John home of Judie and Fred Mopsik "should be interpreted as a genuine interest in the betterment of Maryland and nothing else."
Nonetheless, Davis's involvement is reminiscent of past efforts he has undertaken on behalf of potential opponents to Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who, like O'Malley, has been frequently cited as a potential Democratic candidate in the 2006 race for governor.
The pattern started as far back as 1987, when Davis backed Steven Van Grack against Duncan in the race for mayor of Rockville. In the 1994 county executive race, Davis lent support to Duncan opponent Bruce Adams. And, in 2001, Davis said Blair Ewing's potential challenge would benefit from Duncan's "lack of loyalty."
"The way that he's treated people has created an opening," Davis said then. "So people are sniffing around Blair to see if they can stomach his views."
Davis did not return a call to his office this week seeking comment. Duncan aides said they did not know the origin of Davis's antipathy for the county executive. But, they said, Judie Mopsik has offered to hold a coffee for Duncan as well.
Neither Duncan or O'Malley has declared any intention to seek the party's nod for governor.
Water Cannon Fizzles
At the Preakness last weekend, Ehrlich put his money on a sentimental favorite: Water Cannon. Known as the pride of Bowie, the 3-year-old gray colt was the only member of the Preakness field to have won a race atthe track.
But Saturday's race wasn't meant to be for the local favorite. Water Cannon finished last.
The Search Is On
Last week's passing of longtime Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli at 75 has, for the first time in two decades, opened one of the state's more obscure, but arguably important, jobs.
During 20 years in the post, Montanarelli handled hundreds of politically sensitive and often thankless investigations into alleged criminal wrongdoing. He was the second person to lead the Towson-based Office of the State Prosecutor, created in 1976 after the federal government began aggressively pursuing high-profile corruption cases involving Maryland politicians.
The task of finding a new state prosecutor falls to the State Prosecutor Selection and Disabilities Commission, whose members are appointed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), House Speaker Busch, as well as the Maryland Bar Association and the Maryland State's Attorneys' Association. According to the Maryland Manual, the current members are Barry A. Gold, Barbara Sue Liebman, Scott L. Rolle, Kathleen McDermott and Clay C. Opara.
Under the selection rules, those commissioners review applications for the position, and report in writing to the governor (within 70 days after notification) the name of the applicant or applicants they find to be legally and professionally qualified. The governor may then appoint or reject that candidate within 30 days.