With less than two weeks until Maryland’s voters decide who returns to the State House, former Gov. Bob Ehrlich is on the run. Announcements on Oct. 19 – an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police, the reporting of significant fundraising and the release of polling data showing him closing the gap with Democratic incumbent Gov. Martin O’Malley – had the candidate on a high note for his interview with the AFRO, but still on the go. “It’s a great day,” he said.

Ehrlich wants Black voters to see him as a viable candidate. He believes he has a record of proven actions that will impress this community and engender their support, but feels African Americans don’t look at it because he’s Republican.

According to the candidate, he provided significant funding to historically Black colleges and universities in the state – to Coppin and Morgan for buildings – more, he says, than “any administration in the history of the state. We revitalized it .”

He also counts among his accomplishments significant to Blacks: appointing the first African-American judge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the history of the state, giving the state its first African-American lieutenant governor in Michael Steele, appointing Judge Clayton Greene Jr. to the Maryland Court of Appeals and renaming the airport in honor of Thurgood Marshall.

Minority business and small businesses thrived, he said, during his administration. He praised the leadership of Sharon Pinder in the effort to empower minority business enterprises in the state.

Another area of leadership Ehrlich points to is Project RESTART, a controversial initiative started during his governorship with questionable statistics regarding its effectiveness. “Governor O’Malley, Governor Schaeffer Governor Glendenning did not believe in second chances,” he said. “I do.”

He said, for that reason, even though his base was not interested in the issue, his administration had the most aggressive system of pardons and commutations in the country. His claim on this issue is backed by the numbers. According to a 2009 Washington Post article, Ehrlich received national attention for his aggressive stance on commuting sentences and granting pardons, impacting 249 prisoners – several of whom were serving life sentences – during his time in office. This is in complete contrast with governors prior and since, who seemed to shy away from using the clemency powers of the office.

Ehrlich also wants to stand on his record in support of issues that impact working people. One is the refusal to furlough state employees. The other is sales tax. “Sales tax,” he said, “is always a bad idea and it really hurts poor people.”

He is proud he killed a sales tax increase during his time as governor, saying it also hurts merchant sales as people cross to other jurisdictions for shopping. However, while he worked to help families keep the penny per dollar spent, Ehrlich also vetoed legislation to increase the minimum wage by $1 per hour.

When asked about alternatives to raising taxes to fund the state’s obligations, Ehrlich said there were other options for generating the money needed, including: the increased dollars coming into the state as the economy slowly recovers, restructuring the state government to capture savings from empty, still-funded positions and revenue from gaming. Basing the budget on gaming revenues, however, can prove troublesome since only one of the five authorized slots locations is operational and there are no projected opening dates for the others. Also the amount of gambling revenue available help the state is limited, as 50 percent of those funds is mandated for increasing education funding.

When speaking of education, Ehrlich praised President Barack Obama’s support of charter schools. “I love his leadership on this issue,” he said. “I support him fully.”

Ehrlich said his goal is to double the number of charter schools and quadruple the number of residential charter schools. Noting that charter schools are public schools, he said, “The only way you fix this system is by making every aspect of it more competitive. Parents have a right to expect results.”

When asked if he was prepared to do what was right for the state and its residents, despite potential political fallout, Ehrlich said that’s how he operates. “That’s how I governed the first time.”

 

Talibah Chikwendu

Special to the AFRO