Vol. 10, No. 45

November 7-14, 2002

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In Bay Politics, A Challenging New Day

We congratulate the winners in Tuesday’s election — especially governor-elect Robert Ehrlich and the crop of new GOP legislators that in Chesapeake Country includes Janet Greenip, Bob Costa and — pending the count of absentee ballots — Herb McMillan.

For our part of the world, the outcome of this midterm election represents a monumental shift in political direction and a challenge that will test our commitment to Chesapeake Bay.

We take Ehrlich at his word that he is sensitized to the Bay’s fragile state. Keep in mind that it has taken vast efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars in the past two decades just to begin to stem the degradation that threatens not just the vitality and beauty of the Chesapeake but also its fisheries and economic viability.

Ehrlich told us both times we interviewed him that he regards the seeping nitrogen as the biggest pollution problem and that he will make it a priority to upgrade sewage treatment plants. That is encouraging, and we urge him to also keep in mind the relationship between Bay health and growth management, a topic about which he has been less forthcoming.

The coming months present a stern test not just for Ehrlich, who has promised Marylanders that he will moderate some of the hard-edged conservative views that characterized his tenure in the Congress.

For the Democratic Party, the tests will be especially stiff. For party leaders in Maryland, in Congress and across the country, the outcome Tuesday marked an epochal failure. The GOP had the wind at its back thanks to a popular president, a massive spending advantage (estimated by the federal election commission at nearly $200 million through mid-October) and a host of distractions — from the drumbeat of war to the sniper attacks.

Nonetheless, many voters, us included, had trouble discerning a clear message from Democrats this election that would tell us what the party stands for these days. Is it the party that represents working Americans, the people living paycheck to paycheck who have been devastated by the plunge in markets and corresponding loss of financial security?

Or is it a new Republicrat Party, having neutered itself on the Iraq war resolution and only meekly trumpeted people’s outrage about corporate responsibility, worker distress and environmental destruction?

One point more has us wondering as the results settle: This election will determine what a lot of self-described Bay protectors are made of. Will Chesapeake restoration become a parlor game? Will the professional environmentalists who play footsies with corporate America plunge themselves into critical land-use issues when times are tough?

Elections not only determine winners and losers. They draw battle lines and color issues black and white, if not green. This one sure did.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly