Friday, July 25, 2008

Inside Ehrlich’s Secret Police: Part Five

Among other things, the state police spying scandal reveals immense differences between Governor O’Malley and former Governor Ehrlich. Voters would be wise to remember their contrasting reactions in 2010.

Governor O’Malley has said that his administration “does not and will not use public resources to target or monitor peaceful activities where Maryland citizens are exercising their First Amendment rights.” Nevertheless, Paul Gordon faults him for not pushing corrective legislation. That could be a mistake because legislation might be an effective way to keep the state police from causing further trouble on the current Governor’s watch. Even so, Governor O’Malley has a powerful incentive to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past: political survival. He has fragile relations with some parts of his base and if he sanctions another police investigation of peaceful protestors – especially after promising not to do it – his relationship with the left will be irreparably damaged.

Former Governor Ehrlich, on the other hand, is unburdened by relationships with the left or any concern for civil liberties. The Baltimore Sun reports:

Friday, Ehrlich said on WJZ-TV that he was “sympathetic” to the principle that police should not spy on groups when there no evidence of wrongdoing.

But he added, “We pay state police to make decisions, and obviously they bring discretion with them to their jobs every day, so their job on a daily basis obviously is to weigh the relative value of intelligence they've received and to make decisions accordingly.”

A governor or police chief risks being blamed for not doing his job if an activist “cell” or organization takes actions that put people at risk, Ehrlich said. People could ask, “‘Why weren't you doing your job? Weren’t you supposed to have intelligence operations out there to monitor this sort of situation?’” he said in the television interview.
Put aside for a moment whether the non-violent death penalty activists were a “cell” that “put people at risk.” Governor Ehrlich could have said what his former State Police Superintendent Thomas E. Hutchins had the decency to say: “Whatever occurred during my tenure I obviously am responsible for.” Instead, the Governor’s statements hint that he would tolerate, and maybe even encourage, these sorts of activities if he were ever re-elected. That provides a compelling rationale for why he should never be allowed to hold elected office again.