Friday, April 16, 2010

Does MoCo Have Any Leverage Over O’Malley or Ehrlich?

Examiner reporter Alan Suderman recently wrote an article based on an interesting question: does Bob Ehrlich’s interest in MoCo and the presence of a great number of Democratic voters for Martin O’Malley in the county give MoCo’s elected officials any leverage over the candidates? According to Suderman, some county officials think that might be the case.

And our reply is: are you kidding?

First, the county has never acted in a concerted way to pressure O’Malley. In the wake of his 2006 victory over Ehrlich, the vast majority of the county’s elected officials and Democratic activists were elated to help defeat the first GOP Governor in a generation. They regarded O’Malley as something of a golden boy. That sense interacted with the normal problems of cooperation between county leaders and the MoCo delegation, as well as divisions within each body. And as a result, every time the county has had an issue with O’Malley, he has rolled right over us.

You don’t believe us? The first time MoCo had a problem with O’Malley was during the 2007 special session, when some delegation members resisted his progressive income tax proposal. County Executive Ike Leggett even presented an alternative proposal, but he did not clear it with the delegation first. That proposal went nowhere, the delegation could not achieve a common position and O’Malley got his way. Next came the Governor’s failure to keep his promise of $55 million in school construction money for MoCo, which he made during the special session to secure our delegation’s votes for his tax and slots proposals. O’Malley allocated $46 million instead. A couple state legislators complained but there were no consequences. Then there was the 2008 millionaire tax, which O’Malley supported but some delegation members as well as Leggett opposed. The delegation split again and the tax passed. Finally, in 2008 the Governor cut transit planning funding by 7% for the Red Line, 19% for the Purple Line and 47% for the CCT. A couple of County Council Members squawked but the delegation was silent. Even Action Committee for Transit said nothing.

If Bob Ehrlich had cut school construction or Purple Line money, our elected officials would have gone banana-cakes. But since they are all good Democrats and O’Malley is the current Dem-in-Chief, they are willing to overlook these things and make nice with the boss. In fact, every one of them except Council Member Phil Andrews and Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18) fell all over themselves to endorse O’Malley last September – long before he released his final budget proposal of the term. That is not a way to build leverage. Rather, it is a way to get the Governor to pat you on the head and say, “Good boy!”

As for Ehrlich, he is focused on the 122,000 Republicans and 110,000 unaffiliated voters who live in MoCo. Both groups are ignored by the vast majority of county elected officials because they do not vote in Democratic primaries, which decide virtually all elections here. But they helped put the 2008 Ficker Amendment over the top and will be fertile ground for Ehrlich’s anti-tax message. Most critically, Ehrlich will not have to go through any local politicians to get to them.

One more item is worth noting in any discussion of leverage: money. Over the last ten years, O’Malley has raised $2.6 million in MoCo, 13% of his total take. Ehrlich has raised $2.7 million in MoCo over the same period, which was 9% of his total take. Both candidates can swoop in and raise hundreds of thousands more from MoCo residents without relying on any local electeds as gatekeepers. In fact, local Democratic politicians love to have O’Malley attend their fundraisers because it helps them raise cash. Who’s holding the stick in that relationship?

If county leaders want to have any leverage over any Governor, they need to hang together and play hardball regardless of the Governor’s party affiliation. Otherwise, a big bowl of poodle treats is waiting for them in Annapolis.