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Robert Ehrlich

For the entrepreneur and businessman, see Robert Ehrlich.

Robert Leroy "Bob" Ehrlich, Jr. (born November 25, 1957) is an American politician who served as the 60th Governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007. A Republican, he became governor after defeating Democratic opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a member of the Kennedy family, 51% to 48% in the 2002 elections. Prior to serving as governor, Ehrlich represented Maryland's 2nd Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives and was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Ehrlich lost to Democrat Martin O'Malley in the November 2006 elections. He was the only incumbent governor to be defeated in the November 2006 elections.

Early life, career, and family

Bob was born in the Southwest Baltimore suburb of Arbutus, Maryland, was raised in a Lutheran environment, and had a very prestigious education. After attending Gilman School in the neighborhood of Roland Park in northern Baltimore City, he received degrees from Princeton University (1979) on a partial scholarship, where he was the captain of the football team and a member of the Cap and Gown Club, and Wake Forest University Law School (1982). After he obtained his degrees, Ehrlich went to work for the Ober, Kaler, Grimes and Shriver law firm of Baltimore. In November 1986, Ehrlich won a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, representing parts of Baltimore County from 1987 to 1995. He was a moderate Republican representing a Democratic stronghold.

Ehrlich married Kendel Sibiski in 1993. They have two sons, Drew Robert Ehrlich and Joshua Taylor Ehrlich.

Congress

In 1993, 2nd district Representative Helen Delich Bentley announced she would be vacating her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ehrlich decided to pursue the seat and announced his candidacy in November of the same year.

Ehrlich won the seat, making himself one of the few Republican figures in the heavily Democratic state. During his term, he introduced legislation aimed at helping disabled people maintain employment, and supported harsher gun violence penalties.

While in Congress, Ehrlich served on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he further served on the subcommittees on health, telecommunications and the Internet, and environment and hazardous materials; the Congressional Biotechnology Caucus, where he served as cochairman; and the Congressional Steel Caucus.

Governor of Maryland

2002 Gubernatorial Election

In 2002, Governor Parris Glendening’s (D) second term was coming to a close. While Glendening had been reelected by a substantial margin in 1998, the final years of his term were plagued by a personal marital crisis, and a large state budget deficit. The rural areas of Maryland largely Republican had long criticized Glendening for what they perceived as overzealous environmental regulations as well as ignoring their budgetary needs (bridges, highways, etc.).

On March 15, 2002, Ehrlich announced his candidacy for the governorship. He attacked Glendening's record and his Democratic opposition, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and, if elected, promised to increase school funding, balance the budget, and to protect the Chesapeake Bay. Ehrlich chose as his running mate the attorney and Republican politician Michael S. Steele, an African American.

During the election, Townsend was criticized for her choice of running mate; she picked retired Admiral Charles R. Larson, a novice politician who had switched parties only a few weeks before. The Townsend campaign was also hurt by the unpopularity of Governor Parris Glendening, who had implemented a redistricting proposal that was overturned by Maryland's highest court. Townsend's popularity continued to fall when it was reported that much of her campaign money was given by out-of-state donors; Ehrlich remained quiet while the Lt. Governor's poll numbers declined.

Even though Maryland traditionally votes Democratic and had not elected a Republican governor in almost 40 years, Ehrlich won the race, becoming only the sixth Republican governor in state history, and the first since Spiro T. Agnew was elected in 1967. Ehrlich won by 52% of the vote to Townsend's 47% and Libertarian Spear Lancaster's .68%.

Tenure as governor

Ehrlich styled "fiscal responsibility, education, health and the environment, public safety, and commerce" as the "Five Pillars" of his administration. The greatest challenge that he faced when elected was an actual budget deficit of $2.7 billion dollars passed from the previous administration. This deficit was contained by controlling growth in the budget and a freeze on hiring new state employees. Within his term this deficit was eliminated and surplus money was deposited into the state rainy day fund. While Ehrlich's policy was one in opposition of sales and income tax increases, a signature cause during his tenure as governor was legalization of slot machines to offset the need to increase sales and income tax.

The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act was described by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as the best thing for the Bay in a generation. The $1.8 billion state budget deficit left by the previous administration was eradicated during Ehrlich’s tenure. The unemployment rate dropped significantly from 4.5% in 2003 to 4.1% in 2005, with a net increase of 76,000 jobs. Under Ehrlich's tenure Maryland stayed .5% or more below the national unemployment average.

Ehrlich endorsed the Thornton Plan, which was passed by the Legislature in 2002 and named after Dr. Alvin Thornton. In part, this plan would grant extra money to poorer school systems and those in areas with a higher cost of living. Ehrlich has funded K-12 education at the highest allocations in Maryland's history and has been an ardent supporter of education, which has earned him an “A” from Education Week for public school standards and accountability. He opened the first-ever public charter school, and funded the construction of 45 new schools, and full scale renovation of an additional 52 schools. He has invested record funding in Maryland Community Colleges as well as to Maryland's Historically Black Colleges. During the first budget deficit Ehrlich tried to gain more funding for education through slots revenues so that he would not have to make tough discretionary cuts to higher education (cuts he later restored when the fiscal storm cleared)

Ehrlich established a position in his cabinet for people with disabilities. The Secretary of Disabilities became the first cabinet level disabilities office in the nation. In 2006, he vetoed the "Fair Share Health Care Bill," also known as the WalMart Bill, which required businesses with more that 10,000 employees in the state (three of the four companies being WalMart, NorthrupGrumann, & Giant) to either spend 8% of payroll on employee health care, or pay that amount to a state health program for the uninsured. The reason for the nickname stemmed from the fact that WalMart was the only company in Maryland of that size that did not already provide affordable health insurance to its employees. On Wednesday July 7, 2006, the Maryland law was overturned in federal court by U.S. District Judge Frederick Motz who ruled that the law would "hurt Wal-Mart by imposing the administrative burden of tracking benefits in Maryland differently than in other states."

In 2004, Ehrlich signed the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act, which funds upgrades of water treatment plants to reduce pollution discharge by a surcharge on business and residential water and septic bills. The resulting reduction in pollution into the bay was expected to meet approximately one-third of Maryland's obligations under the 2000 Chesapeake Bay Agreement

Ehrlich appointed a cabinet-level Homeland Security advisor. He opposed President Bush's 2006 approval for a U.A.E. firm to take control of six U.S. port operations, including those at the Port of Baltimore. (See Dubai Ports World controversy).

In 2004, Ehrlich effectively ended the moratorium on executions that was instituted by his predecessor in May 2002. (See capital punishment in Maryland.) Since then, two men have been executed by the State, with Ehrlich denying clemency in both instances.

In 2003, Ehrlich abandoned the policy of his predecessor precluding persons serving life sentences from eligibility for executive clemency and promised to evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis.

Although he was entitled to membership in the National Governors Association, the Southern Governors' Association, and the Republican Governors Association, he was not actively involved in those organizations.

In 2006, he became a member of the Capital-to-Capital Coalition.

Ehrlich portrayed a Maryland state trooper in an episode of the HBO drama The Wire. The episode was entitled "That's Got His Own" and was broadcast December 3, 2006.

Controversy

Veto of the "Wal-Mart" Health Care Bill

In January 2006, the Maryland Legislature passed the controversial "Fair Share Health Care Bill", over Ehrlich's also-controversial veto. The bill attracted national attention because it made Maryland the first state to require very large corporations (only Walmart, other large corporations were excluded) to either spend 8% of their payroll on employee health care, or pay that amount to a state health-care fund. It became known as the "Wal-Mart Bill" because while it nominally applied to any corporation with more than 10,000 workers, in practice Wal-Mart was the only employer which met that threshold that did not already pay at least 8% of their payroll on employee health care. Critics of the international discount chain claim that Wal-Mart's low wages force employees and their dependents to rely on state healthcare assistance. (See Wal-Mart Employee and Labor Relations).

Supporters of the bill claimed that this veto showed Ehrlich, whose official biography describes him as "unapologetically pro-business," had sided with "big corporate interests rather than Maryland's working families." For his part, Ehrlich called the bill the "first step toward government-run health care" by "anti-jobs lawmakers." He claimed that it would hurt low and middle-income consumers and was unfair to Wal-Mart. In the summer of 2006, a federal judge struck down the law as violating current federal law.

Slot machines

In light of Marylands' budget deficit and Ehrlich’s staunch opposition to raising taxes, he has pursued slot machines as a means for raising revenue for the state. Ehrlich initially met with little success on the issue, and the House of Delegates continually voted down legislation. In early 2005, however, both the House of Delegates and the State Senate passed different sets of legislation allowing slot machines. Both bills varied too much for compromise, however, and died at the end of the legislative session.

Ehrlich cited his reasons for needing slot machines in Maryland by examining the surrounding states of West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, all of which have slot machines legalized. He claims that hundreds of millions of dollars are lost to those states that could be kept in Maryland. Furthermore, most of the money that was expected to be generated from the slot machines was earmarked towards education, although often the state reduces education funding from the amount it would have spent by the amount the lottery brings in, cancelling the lottery's purported goal Much of the remaining funds were intended to support the state horse racing industry and retain the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.

State House speaker Michael E. Busch (D) has steadfastly opposed slot machines in Maryland and has regularly clashed with State Senate president Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. (D). These actions divided both chambers of the Assembly as well as the Maryland Democratic party. Busch permitted passage of a bill allowing 9,500 slot machines.

Following the failure of the slots initiative, Ehrlich predicted that no further slots bills would be passed during the next legislative session, and that the issue will remain under the table until after the 2006 gubernatorial election. Some legislators tried to call a special session of the General Assembly to address slot machines. A referendum has also been discussed.

Bob Ehrlich also previously accepted campaign contributions from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ambramoff recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax evasion. He is a proponent of casinos and pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from his 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos. After significant pressure from the media in the wake of Abramoff's multiple indictments, Ehrlich quickly returned the disputed campaign funds.

O'Malley Rumors and the "MD4Bush" Incident

In early 2005 Ehrlich fired an aide, Joseph Steffen, for spreading false rumors of marital infidelity about Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley on the Internet. O'Malley, a Democrat, ran for governor against Ehrlich in 2006. The discussions in which Steffen posted the rumors were initiated by an anonymous user going by the name "MD4Bush," later revealed to be Maryland Democratic Party official Ryan O'Doherty. O'Malley and his wife had a highly publicized press conference to deny the rumors and accused Republicans of dirty politics.

Alleged Partisan Firing of State Employees

Steffen's role in the Ehrlich Administration later became the subject of a legislative investigation into hiring practices by the Administration. After leaving the administration, Steffen claimed that he had been "a political hit man in the Ehrlich administration," responsible for identifying career state employees to be fired and replaced with Ehrlich allies. In September 2005 newly released e-mails showed that an aide in Ehrlich's appointments office personally authorized the dismissal of a mid-level state engineer, Vincent J. Gardina. Gardinia, a Democrat, was an at-will employee of the Baltimore County Council who had worked for five months on dredging projects at the Maryland Environmental Service. Gardina, who earned $55,000 a year, had received a favorable work evaluation just weeks before being terminated. However, documents located on Gardina's state computer, released by the Governor's Counsel in September 2005, revealed that he was utilizing state time and resources to complete County Council and campaign work.

After being dismissed, Gardina sued the governor, alleging that he was fired because of his political affiliation. The State settled the suit for $100,000 before trial.

To date, the special investigative committee has found no illegal instances of firing, but is working on producing future guidelines to avoid similar questions in the future.

2006 gubernatorial election

On November 7, 2006, Ehrlich was defeated for re-election in the 2006 gubernatorial election by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley. Ehrlich's term as governor expired at noon on January 17, 2007. He was the only incumbent governor to be defeated in 2006.

Life after the Governor's Office

Ehrlich has said that, at the present time, he does not have an interest in running again for political office. He has not ruled out a future run, however, and has purchased a home in Annapolis.

On Wednesday, January 24, 2007, the former Governor and his wife Kendel were guest talk show hosts for WCBM AM radio's Tom Marr morning show. The former Governor has had a strong affinity for talk radio because it gave him an opportunity to promote his policies and platform to his base. Ehrlich often appeared on radio talk shows during his tenure as Governor, choosing to speak directly to the electorate over airwaves.

A month after he left public office, Ehrlich and several aides from his administration opened a Baltimore-area office of North Carolina law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. His wife Kendel has taken a consulting job as a director of the BankAnnapolis.

In March 2007, Ehrlich endorsed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the Presidency. He was the Chairman of Giuliani's Mid-Atlantic Campaign Committee.

Ehrlich is a regular guest on The Junkies radio show heard in Washington, DC on 106.7 WJFK. His segment, which airs on Fridays, is known as the "Gov's Games" in which he goes head to head with the Junkies and selects the winner of 4 pro games.

Ehrlich and his wife currently host their own radio show on WBAL-AM Radio every Saturday. Ehrlich has stated that although the show will be focused on politics, he will not directly criticize his successor, calling this "classless.

Election history

Year Office Subject Party Votes Pct Opponent Party Votes Pct Opponent Party Votes Pct
1994 Congress, District 2

Robert Ehrlich Republican 125,162 62.74% Gerry Brewster Democrat 74,275 37.23%
1996 Congress, District 2

Robert Ehrlich Republican 143,075 61.83% Connie Dejuliis Democrat 88,344 38.17%
1998 Congress, District 2

Robert Ehrlich Republican 145,711 69.32% Kenneth Bosley Democrat 64,474 30.67%
2000 Congress, District 2

Robert Ehrlich Republican 178,556 68.56% Kenneth Bosley Democrat 81,591 31.33%
2002 Governor

Robert Ehrlich Republican 879,592 51.55% Kathleen Kennedy Townsend Democrat 813,422 47.68% Spear Lancaster Libertarian 11,546 0.68%
2006 Governor

Robert Ehrlich Republican 825,464 46.2% Martin O'Malley Democrat 942,279 52.7% Ed Boyd Green 15,551 0.9%

References

  • Maryland Archives gubernatorial biography.
  • Maryland Archives general biography.
  • Congressional Quarterly election library.
  • Ehrlich Firing Probe Advances

See also

Footnotes

External links

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