Vol. 10, No. 22

May 30-June 5, 2002

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Rep. Robert Ehrlich and the Environment

We’ve heard people say that finally, Maryland will have a real race for governor.

They refer to what seems all but certain to be a November choice between two accomplished politicians: Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic nominee, and U.S. Rep. Bob Ehrlich, the Republican.

Actually, we’ve had ‘real’ races for governor before and doubtless would have had more were it not for the peculiar nature of the Maryland Republican Party.

We’re speaking here about the state GOP’s seeming preference to remain a debating society and social club rather than a viable political party bent on winning elections.

Enter Robert Ehrlich, a well-presented and quite likable politician who has the opportunity to break the mold.

Will he seize it?

One area that will test Ehrlich sorely is the environment. What Maryland’s Republican gubernatorial hopefuls have usually failed to grasp is that when it comes to the environment, Maryland is not Montana.

If you come from Butte, you can run on a property-rights and hands-off pro-growth platform and the folks in the crowd looking at a million acres of nothing will shout, ‘Yahoo.’

But attitudes are starkly different in Maryland, where sprawl destroys our quality of life and protecting the Chesapeake Bay takes constant vigilance, money and regulation.

Ehrlich wouldn’t, at first blush, seem up to those tasks. His rating from the League of Conservation Voters — the political arm of the nation’s major environmental organizations — averaged 23 percent over the past two years.

That doesn’t mean Ehrlich can’t grow. For instance, he recently praised Maryland’s Smart Growth law, which is aimed at reining in unwise development by making it harder for developers to get state money for the roads and sewers they need to support their projects.

We’ve been among those to praise Smart Growth. But with subdivisions still popping up in sight of the Bay, we’re convinced that it needs longer and sharper teeth.

So we weren’t heartened to hear Ehrlich qualify his Smart Growth endorsement by saying that he was “concerned” about pre-emption of local zoning laws by state authority.

Paying only lip service to the environment won’t win converts to Ehrlich, especially the independents and moderate Republicans who recall the GOP’s heritage and its green heroes. Those heroes include the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, who oversaw the creation of our national park system and, yes, Richard Nixon, under whom the Environmental Protection Agency was born.

That was before the arrival of the Republican’s anti-regulatory and pro-property crowd, who created a gulf between the political parties on environmental matters.

Ehrlich has the opportunity in the next five months to return conservation to the conservative agenda — at least in Maryland.

Then again, the governor’s office in Montana will be open in 2004.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly