Trick or treat in Maryland

Brendan Miniter checks in with Republican Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich in a column for OpinionJournal: “Ehrlich to rise.” The governor contends with a solidly Democratic legislature that is enchanted with such clever public policy ideas (look for the union label) as punishing Wal-Mart for allegedly insufficient health care spending on its employees. Miniter notes the familiar all yin role of the Baltimore Sun in the yin/yang struggle between the governor and the legislature:

A fair or at least a populist press might have cautioned legislators to cool it long ago. But the state’s largest newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, has been engaged in a protracted fight with the governor. Its opening shot came during the 2002 campaign, when Mr. Ehrlich tapped Michael Steele, who is black, as his running mate. The Sun editorialized that Mr. Steele “brings little to the team but the color of his skin.” That remark and a list of errors (including some 80 instances of misspelling the governor’s name) spurred Gov. Ehrlich to instruct his administration not to talk to two Sun reporters. The paper sued, claiming its free speech rights were being violated, but was forced to drop its suit after losing in every court that heard the case.

Last year the governor set up a Halloween display on the front lawn of the executive mansion and he was blasted for that too. Sun columnist Laura Vozzella scoffed at the large inflatable jack-o-lantern and other ornaments, calling them “a little, well, Arbutus”–a dig at the governor’s blue-collar hometown. Mr. Ehrlich has also been grilled by the media on why he supports defining marriage as between a man and a woman and why he put “Merry Christmas” on his Christmas cards.

It’s a safe bet that no one at the Sun appreciates how politically helpful have been Mr. Ehrlich’s defense of marriage and Christmas, his working-class background and his choice of a popular African-American as lieutenant governor–though clearly Mr. Ehrlich understands how helpful it has been to use the Legislature and the media as a foil. He has a framed picture of that inflatable jack-o-lantern on the wall inside the governor’s mansion. In it he’s standing next to two Democrats who understand how to win elections, Virginia’s former governor Mark Warner and Washington’s Mayor Anthony Williams. All three of them are giving the “Arbutus” jack-o-lantern the thumbs up.

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