In Gubernatorial Politics,
Seeking the Bay Way to Office
Voters got a preview of the 2006 governor’s race at the Maryland League of Conservation Voters’ annual John Kabler Memorial Award event last week.
The main contestants for the Democratic nomination, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, skewered Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who unwisely declined an invitation to attend.
Duncan noted that Ehrlich had blocked $370 million in conservation spending and had all but put an end to Maryland’s nationally known smart growth efforts.
“The Eastern Shore is in danger of becoming a suburb of the Western Shore,” warned Duncan, declaring that he would make the environment a key issue in the election. “We can turn the Bay around so that every year it’s less and less oxygen depleted,” he said. Then he sketched his own plan to restore the Bay “by land, sea and air.”
On a night when the 13 water- and riverkeepers of Maryland were honored, O’Malley wisely observed that the rallying cry of Save the Bay can better resonate if we tie it to rivers. Why? Because so many Marylanders live along rivers threatened by development and understand their connection to a healthy Chesapeake.
“Imagine the good we can do if we used the money that was set aside by law to protect open space and green space and woodlands,” O’Malley said.
The Democrats’ words were warmly received. Nonetheless, we couldn’t help thinking that they too closely matched the light fare of the evening.
The audience, made up of Maryland’s leading conservationists and their funders, was much too sophisticated for platitudes and amplified snippets from stump speeches.
Staking out a claim or offering a new specific position or two might have paid off handsomely with this hungry crowd.
But at least O’Malley and Duncan showed up.
O’Malley recalled being told long ago by former Gov. Harry Hughes that no issue in Maryland unites voters like the Chesapeake Bay.
As they and other speakers noted, Ehrlich deserves credit for his Bay Restoration Fund. But he has performed weakly on land preservation, transportation and other environmental fronts, receiving the grade of D+ thus far from the League of Conservation Voters.
Ehrlich has a General Assembly session to improve that score. He’s also got his platform as 2006 chairman of the Chesapeake Executive Council, which sets region-wide policy for protecting and restoring the Bay. But he might well find that voters next November will be looking for more than a one-trick pony when it comes to the environment.