Former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. made a prudent decision in pledging not to run for public office again now that he has lost his bid for reelection. His thinly-veiled association with what has become traditional last-minute voter suppression tactics, particularly in minority districts in Maryland, should come to an end even faster than his Back-to-the-Future forays on the campaign trail.
Whether the former Republican governor was directly involved in this year’s election eve Chicago-style robocall antics perpetrated by one of his campaign contractors does not matter. That “counterintuitive” contractor, Julius Henson, of Universal Elections, has now publicly admitted that he and an associate committed this disdainful act, so they all owe Maryland voters an apology, for starters.
Any hint of tampering with the sacred franchise in a democratic society is a violation of civil rights and a regrettable act. As such, that regret requires a public apology and public sanction.
But mum is the word from the Ehrlich camp, and it speaks volumes.
More than 100,000 disingenuous robocalls reportedly were made anonymously to primarily Black Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George’s County. The woman’s voice enthusiastically informed them that incumbent Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had been “successful” in his reelection bid. Worse, these targeted voters were told to “relax.” No need to vote if they hadn’t already done so during the two hours the polls would be open.
This dirty trick was the handiwork of desperados.
However, on election night, Andy Barth, Ehrlich campaign spokesman, challenged reporters following the robocall story to show any association to their campaign. Barth emphatically maintained that their camp rejected and condemned such calls. “We want a clean, honest and uncontestable election without questions about the vote,” he told a Baltimore television reporter.
But that tactic, which is a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, was neither “clean, honest..,” or “without question.”
No wonder Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is investigating the robcalls and Sen. Ben Cardin, another Democrat, has also asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the matter—as well they should.
For his part, Henson muttered an unintelligible excuse after his admission, saying his “counterintuitive” decision to conduct robocalls was actually intended to get Republicans and Ehrlich supporters to the polls. Shameful; and still no apology. The political operative even brushed off the act as innocent, claiming what amounts to voter tampering is no big deal.
There is nothing innocent here.
Today, more than two weeks after the election, Ehrlich still refuses to discuss the robocalls. He said “no comment” when asked about them on his wife, Kendal’s, WBAL radio show last Saturday. His silence is unacceptable.
No one should be surprised by these voter suppression or intimidation tactics Republicans have been accused of applying both in the state and across the nation to counter what they view as the Democrats’ GOTV (Get Out The Vote) tactics, also targeted at minority voters.
Ehrlich is allegedly no stranger to charges of questionable campaign tactics either. He has been accused directly or indirectly with such actions as busing in homeless Philadelphia men and women in 2006 to work the Maryland polls in minority neighborhoods and passing out election day flyers in 2006 that erroneously stated Black leaders supported the re-election of the then-Gov. Ehrlich and the election of the then-Lt. Gov. Michael Steele for the U.S. Senate.
But this latest antic crosses a legal line, and someone will have to pay – literally. The penalty for each violation of the TCPA carries a fine of $500, or $168 million total. If found guilty, that sum could take a tidy bite out of the $100,000 the Ehrlich campaign paid Henson’s company to mobilize Black voters.
If Ehrlich can come hat-in-hand to seek Black votes and this paper’s endorsement as he did before the election, he can very well extend the other hand by offering an explanation for his contractor’s actions.
Ehrlich’s continued silence is an insult, which looms over the Maryland communities his past campaign actions have abused. Our community is entitled an explanation! With every passing day his silence is a loud reminder of the duplicity in his campaign promise of sensitive honesty in return for our community’s support.