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November 28, 2006

Self-destructive Partisanship

Roy Meachum

Easing into office his first time out, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., proceeded to claim a mandate. That confused me from the start.

With Democrats edging Mr. Ehrlich's Republicans statewide about two to one, it would have behooved the man to walk a fine line; instead he jumped into an us-against-them frenzy, finding little good to say about the majority party. He struck a deal with Senate President Mike Miller, but that was strictly on the question of slot machines. It's hard to summon up any other major issues that found them walking hand-to-hand.

Counting on Mr. Miller's support, the governor verbally trounced and bitterly denounced House Speaker Michael Busch as a "hypocrite." The gentleman was also accused of playing "partisan politics." Always reliable for his political cohorts, the Senate president went along, castigating Mr. Busch in his turn. They have in a sense come back together again.

In his first Annapolis years, Mr. Ehrlich may have been buoyed by the belief former Gov. Parris Glendening's many detractors in the Democratic Party had signed on. The most notorious example was William Donald Schaefer. The governor's office left no stone turned in appealing to the former mayor of Baltimore's ego. In his turn Mr. Schaefer generally sang Mr. Ehrlich's song.

At the time, the strategy seemed to be an attempt to divide the Democrats, as Mr. Ehrlich had done in 2002. Or had he? Mr. Schaefer, Mr. Miller and even Attorney General Joseph Curran were slow to warm up to their party's candidate. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend offered little to the old-time political bosses.

They suspected she would use her Kennedy connections to clean up Annapolis' traditional muck and mire. They saw properly she and her family viewed Annapolis as a road stop on the way to the White House. These are the main reasons Democrats switched, rather than Mr. Ehrlich's undoubted charisma.

Any hope of continuing 2002's Grand Coalition was finished off when the administration began to sweep Democrats off the state's employment rolls. When Mr. Ehrlich's hand-chosen puppets tried to cut their throats, they had only limited success; many of the ousted bureaucrats owed their jobs to members of the General Assembly.

But freshly re-elected GOP leaders promise to hold Mr. O'Malley's feet to the fire over his political appointees. However, Baltimore's mayor has already promised to restrict his rearrangement of the state government only to his close associates. Presumably he feels the most egregious of his predecessor's choices will shortly depart anyway.

You cannot imagine the newly elected governor repeating Mr. Ehrlich's "mistake," especially when he knows Democrats have reassumed all the power that really matters in state government. He has no need to protest or play games. He can afford to wait until the wheel turns in his direction.

GOP General Assembly legislators who feel inclined to start a running guerilla war with Mr. O'Malley should be warned it could cost them dearly. They could easily watch cherished appointments slip into other hands. They are likely to find their legislation waved aside, stymied or jammed with amendments.

With the possibility of a Democrat's move into the White House in two years and the congressional shift of power into the other party, the GOP faces the reality that 2004 may have marked the absolute high point of Newt Gingrich's "revolution."

Radio talk show hosts, like Rush Limbaugh, have witnessed a brutal and rapid decline in their popularity; for the most part, they foster philosophically right-wing politics. Already, Mr. Limbaugh has been subjected to the humiliation of suffering WBAL radio's decision to let him go to another Baltimore station.

Particularly in a state so solidly Democratic, conservative Republicans risk increasing Martin O'Malley's standing among voters. Harassing and assaulting the new governor and state employees in a very short run can only lead to voters' frustration and anger. "We won't take it anymore" was the theme coming out of polling places this month.

We've had four years of self-serving and self-destructive politics. On November 7, the people said too much is too much.

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