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September 11, 2006

The State Races IMHO* - Part Four

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Today we'll focus on statewide races for governor, attorney general, and comptroller.

The comptroller's primary race is a signature battle for Democrats. Incumbent William Donald Schaefer finds himself in a major contest to hold onto the seat that some had thought would be his until he chose to go.

The problem for Comptroller Schaefer comes from two different aspects. One is his penchant to say and do things that attract controversy. The other is the nature of his primary opponents, one credible and qualified and the other loud and obnoxious.

Mr. Schaefer has a tendency to speak his mind when the mood strikes him. He has offended Hispanics, women, Arabs, Koreans, and pretty much any other group with a cause or purpose.

I don't pretend to try to defend him, but I do think some of the "controversy" surrounding some his comments aren't as significant as some (meaning Baltimore's Sun) would have you believe.

As far as the opponents go, the credible one is Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens. She's smart, savvy, and successful. She's done a decent job managing a high-growth, fast paced job building the economy in her own county.

Now she believes she can translate that success into the comptroller's office and a coveted seat on the Board of Public Works. She'd be a tough opponent anytime, but even tougher considering the recent behavior of Comptroller Schaefer.

The third player in this drama flat-out amazes me. How anyone, much less thousands of voters in a primary, can consider Del. Peter Franchot (D., Montgomery) a credible candidate for any elected office amazes me.

I've watched Delegate Franchot for four years. His single most significant accomplishment is his running battle with Transportation Secretary Bob Flanagan. His second-most significant accomplishment is to be the first one in line whenever a camera is turned on.

It's not just me that feels this way, either. Delegate Franchot is a joke in the basement of the State House, frequently the butt of humor within the press corps that covers the General Assembly.

There are a number of Republican candidates for comptroller as well. A few have made their way to Frederick, notably Stephen Abrams, Anne McCarthy, and Mark Spradlin. All appear able and competent, but it isn't apparent that any of them will ever get the chance at the job in November.

Analysis: I still think that William Donald Schaefer has another term left in him. I attended the Board of Public Works meeting two weeks ago, and watched as Mr. Schaefer berated Trent Kittleman, of the Maryland Transportation Authority needlessly. Afterward, I pondered if maybe his time had come.

Under normal circumstances, it might have. This isn't normal though, and with Delegate Franchot taking the liberal and progressive vote, and Janet Owens battling Mr. Schaefer for the rest of the vote, I think William Donald Schaefer will get one more term.

Assuming the comptroller makes it through September, it really doesn't matter which Republican runs against him, as Gov. Bob Ehrlich prefers Mr. Schaefer over any other challenger.

* * * * * * * * * *

The attorney general race looks to heat things up a bit. Legendary incumbent Joe Curran is done, having already announced his retirement. Mr. Curran's record of giving solid advice has been seriously impacted by several recent court decisions.

Attorney General Curran is Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's father-in-law. Some speculate his withdrawal from office is due to his relationship with the Democrat governor wanna-be. Instead of helping his in-law, Mr. Curran's recent legal opinions, notably the Wal-Mart and early voting decisions, have worked in favor of incumbent Governor Ehrlich.

Montgomery County Councilman Tom Perez had hoped to win the Democrat primary. He had another one of those Joe Curran opinions that allowed him to file and run. Unfortunately, he did have one of those opinions, and the appeals courts overturned it.

So, Mr. Perez heads back to the county building in Rockville, to start cleaning out his office. In his wake, Douglas Gansler faces off against Stuart Simms in tomorrow's primary.

Mr. Gansler has been running for attorney general longer than anyone else. He had made his intention to run clear even before Joe Curran announced his retirement. Mr. Gansler's history is marked by law enforcement criticism in Montgomery County that he was more worried about media coverage than he was about prosecuting criminals.

Stu Simms is a former head of the state prison and juvenile justice systems under Gov. Parris Glendening. Mr. Simms was the lieutenant governor choice by Doug Duncan before his withdrawal for health reasons.

Mr. Gansler is running a personality profile commercial nonstop, and has had a lot of money to spend prior to the primary. When the voters don't really care about a race (like attorney general), the guy with the more familiar name will probably pull it out.

Our own Scott Rolle carries the banner into November for the Republican Party. By all accounts, Scott has done a very good job with his campaign so far. He's traveling all over the state, getting out there and meeting voters. Governor Ehrlich is helping, and that's a good thing for Scott.

If Governor Ehrlich does really well statewide, expect Scott to do well, too. It is an uphill battle, no matter how you cut it, but Scott Rolle will keep working right up until November 7.

Analysis: Douglas Gansler beats Stuart Simms in the primary, and looks to be the frontrunner in the general, too. Watch for Scott to perform well in debates and forums, though. Scott's tough-on-crime message might just pull out a surprise.

Now for the main event, the feature race. Governor Ehrlich stands poised to make Maryland history again. Four years ago, he turned back 36 years of Democrat occupancy of the Governor's Mansion. Now he is in a position to defend his office, but the challenge is real and daunting.

Martin O'Malley is the real deal. Intelligent, witty, and photogenic, and he brings many of the cards to the game that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lacked four years ago.

In a recent column, I unintentionally did the Governor a real disservice. I was questioning how some groups were threatening to stay home, since they had problems with his policy positions. I specifically mentioned stem cell research and gay marriage.

Below are answers supplied by both Governor Ehrlich and Mayor O'Malley to a question from the Gazette Newspapers on the issue of same sex marriage. I suggested in my column that the governor wasn't as aggressive as some would like in defense of traditional marriage, but the following makes clear his perspective.

Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.

My views in opposition to gay marriage have remained unchanged and firm during my entire public career. I believe marriage is defined as between a man and a woman; accordingly, while serving in Congress, I supported the Defense of Marriage Act. In this regard, I have been aggressive and public with my criticisms of the legislative leadership's failure to allow a marriage referendum to pass the General Assembly.

Mayor Martin O'Malley

I believe that we should leave it to religions to define sacraments and that our government should strive for its part to protect equal rights under the law. Therefore, I do not support using the state or federal constitution as a tool to deny rights or discriminate - we've never done that before as a people and I don't believe we should start now.

This is but one of a number of serious and significant differences between these two men. Mayor O'Malley is a classic liberal Democrat. Organized labor loves him. He is open to tax increases to fund essential (as he defines them) services, and he would work hand-in-hand with legislative leaders to pump millions into programs to preserve land, develop parks, and provide healthcare and related services to a large percentage of the population, regardless of their ability to pay. He has done a good job of guiding Baltimore's ship of state, although there are still issues related to education and street crime.

Governor Ehrlich, on the other hand, revels in his record of transforming Maryland's several billion dollar deficit into a billion dollar surplus. He touts a record of environmental success (including the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund and Clean Air Act), economic revitalization (job creation, tax credits, bio-tech expansions, tourism successes, and downtown revitalization), and the continued funding of the Thornton public education initiative for all four years of his term.

Considering conventional wisdom, this one shouldn't be close. In a state with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, Martin O'Malley should win this one in a walk-away. He won't!

Analysis: Mayor O'Malley holds a slim lead in the polls. Governor Ehrlich is now releasing his barrage of commercials across Maryland. He has the resources to significantly outspend Mr. O'Malley, thanks in large part to a very sophisticated campaign machine. Both gentlemen enjoy some big advantages in personality and communication ability. Bob Ehrlich has the biggest advantage of all, incumbency, and he knows how to use it for his purposes.

In My Humble Opinion, I think Bob Ehrlich will be re-elected in a very close contest.

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