Why the "Free State" of Maryland Isn’t So "Free!"

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The governor of Maryland receives an annual salary of $150,000 for fulfilling his official duties. Nevertheless, the incumbent office holder, Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., a Republican, and Pavlovian lapdog for the warmongering President George W. Bush, raised $4.6 million last year for his November 7, 2006 reelection efforts. The two Democratic wannabes, Martin O’Malley and Douglas M. Duncan, raised a combined $5.6 million in 2005, in their quests for the same governorship. I say a plague on all of their houses! Over the years, Maryland has picked up the nickname of the “Free State.” Well, it was never deserved or appropriate. It surely isn’t “free” today, thanks to the outrageous campaign fund raising associated with candidates from the “Duopoly Party” (DemRepublicrats) seeking to capture the post of governor.

What a strange thing it is: Watching an individual raising millions of dollars in campaign contributions to secure an elected job as governor, which only pays the recipient $150,000 a year! What else is going on here that doesn’t meet the public’s eye? Who really benefits from an electoral process fueled by megabucks in donations coming mostly from special interests, beside the winning candidate and his or her fat cat supporters? Where do the people of Maryland fit into this disturbing formula?

According to the “Baltimore Sun,” Ehrlich, an ex-congressman, and ideological crony of the fast fading zealot, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), has brought into his campaign coffers a staggering $10.8 million, since first winning the office of governor, in 2002. It makes him the “most prodigious fundraiser in Maryland history.” [1] Some of that money which went to Ehrlich-$16,000 to be exact-came from the disgraced, convicted ultra-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cash machine. [2] Why doesn’t that shocking fact surprise me? [3] Ehrlich is the same character who got caught attempting to make a back room deal which would have sold off valuable state preservation land to a construction magnet, Willard Hackerman. [4] Ehrlich is also said to have set loose on state government workers a system “targeting” personnel for firing who were thought to be “politically or personally disloyal” to him. [5] Oh, shades of the “dirty tricks” of Richard M. Nixon! Ehrlich once told a local radio station, WBAL, hosted by Ron Smith, on Nov. 16, 2004, that he “didn’t know” Hackerman! [6] Oh, yeah! If the indicted Rep. DeLay does end up in prison, (Wouldn’t that be poetic justice?), Ehrlich will probably say: “I don’t’ remember DeLay at all from my days in the U.S. House of Representatives!”

There’s more! To demonstrate DeLay’s baleful influence over him, Ehrlich recently slashed the $7 million budget of a desperately needed Medicaid program. The cuts unfairly targeted immigrant families. Now, the children of the immigrants effected are unable to “receive routine immunizations.” Ehrlich’s mean-spirited action is presently being challenged in court by the impacted families. [7]

Here’s something, too, that sounds familiar. After the Abramoff scandal broke earlier this year, President Bush, through one of his mouthpieces, denied ever “personally” meeting with the super-lobbyist. White House records, however, indicate that the wheeler-dealer made numerous visits to the presidential mansion – and as a very welcomed guest, too. According to “Time” magazine, there may be as many as six photographs showing Bush with Abramoff, who donated $100,000 to the reelection bid of the Bush-Cheney Gang. He is said to belong to the exclusive GOP’s “Pioneer Club” of extremely deep pocket contributors. [8]

Questions: How many times, if ever, did Ehrlich meet in the State House, in Annapolis, MD, with Abramoff? How many photos are there of Ehrlich and Abramoff together? And, what, if anything, did the slippery Abramoff expect to receive in return from the governor of Maryland for that $16,000 in contributions? Or, are we expected to believe that “Jack” was just giving that money away because he believes in “good government?” I think Gov. Ehrlich has a duty to answer all of these questions and to do it soon.

Meanwhile, apologists for Bush are now saying that his meetings with Abramoff at the White House, and at Crawford, Texas, too, were just “a coincidence” and that the president never had a “personal” relationship with the confessed corrupt felon. [9] I suppose, if the law ever catching up with Dick Cheney, Bush will also deny having a “personal” relationship with his Vice President from Halliburton! Is Ehrlich, too, going to say that his significant campaign ties, try $16,000 from Abramoff, was just a “coincidence?” If so, who will really believe him?

Now for some local history about Maryland’s nickname, the “Free State.” Back in the early 1920s, a “Baltimore Sun” editorialist gave Maryland that label, since it had refused to go along with federal legislation “to prohibit the sale of liquor.” [10] It was a bad idea! The silly moniker, the “Free State,” didn’t fit then and it sure as dickens doesn’t fit now with a state awash in millions of dollars of campaign bucks-all in quest of influencing the outcome of the election for governor. I prefer Maryland’s other, more historically accurate sobriquet, “The Old Line State,” a tribute to the notion of civic virtue something notoriously missing from the present scene. [11] “The Old Line State” references a comment that General George Washington made about Maryland troops who were gallantly “holding the line” against overwhelming British forces at the Battle of Long Island, near Brooklyn Heights, in August, 1776. As the troops, under the legendary Major Mordecai Gist, mounted a courageous effort to cover the retreat of others, Washington, while observing the Marylanders being cut down by the overwhelming British forces, said, “Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose.” [12] The commander of the fabled “Maryland Line” soldiers was Col. William Smallwood, another hero of the Revolutionary War, who later went on to serve as a Maryland Governor from 1785-1788. What would Smallwood think of this unseemly campaign/cash/Ehrlich/Abramoff mess in 2006?

Back to Ehrlich and Abramoff and their yet fully explained money/campaign connection. Enter one Edward B. Miller. He is presently a deputy chief of staff to Ehrlich. According to the “Baltimore Sun,” one of the companies that was central to Abramoff’s kickback schemes was “Grassroots Interactive.” The sole owner of that business at that time was Miller. He has denied any wrongdoing in the matter. The Feds, however, say that their investigation into this aspect of the Abramoff case is continuing. (2) Ehrlich has promised to return $16,000 in political donations which he had accepted from the lobbyist’s fund-raising juggernaut to the “Helping Us Mission” in Baltimore. The chair of the Democratic Party in Maryland is demanding that the State Prosecutor, Robert A. Rohrbaugh, initiate an investigation into the role of Miller “in the kickback scheme of Jack Abramoff.” [13]

I think the people of Maryland are also entitled to know the following: What is Edward B. Miller’s exact relationship with Abramoff, and with Ehrlich, too? How did Miller get his job with the Ehrlich administration? Did Abramoff have anything to do with Miller getting his sinecure from Ehrlich in Annapolis or was it because Miller had just submitted a “great” resume? What favors, if any, did Abramoff ask of the governor and/or his cronies, in exchange for the $16,000 in donations? If he did get something in return for his $16,000, what was it? Under his plea deal, Abramoff is obligated to “cooperate” with the Feds and to spill the beans on anyone else with whom he may have had a corrupt relationship.

Finally, the Democratic Party in Maryland is also demanding that Governor Ehrlich “fire Miller” and end what it labels as a “culture of corruption.” [14] The latter is a very timely campaign year slogan. But, isn’t this also an example of the pot calling the kettle black considering the sordid scandals in Maryland over the years tied to past Democratic administrations? And, isn’t the recently-indicted- on-federal-RICCO-charges, ex-state senator, Thomas L. Bromwell, Sr., a Democrat? And, wasn’t he part of its well-oiled machine politics for decades? It will be interesting to see if the ongoing probes into the dealings of Abramoff have anything meaningful to reveal about his reported questionable transactions with Ehrlich, Miller, and others, in the wrongly nicknamed – “Free State” of Maryland. Stay tuned!

Notes:

[1]. Andrew Green and John Fritz, “Baltimore Sun,” 01/19/06, “Race for the Millions.”

[2]. “Abramoff Used Firm Founded by Ehrlich Aide,” Andrew A. Green, “Baltimore Sun,” 01/04/06.

[3]. http://www.thinkprogress.org/abramoff

[4]. http://www.franchot.com/content/view/36/61/

[5]. “Maryland Workers Said to be Targeted,” by Jennifer Skalka, “Baltimore Sun,” 12/14/05.

[6]. http://www.mddems.org/index.php?display=ViewBlogThread&id=197439

[7]. “Restore Medicaid Benefits, Say Lawyers for 13 Families,” 12/24/06, “Baltimore Sun,” by Kelly Brewington.

[8]. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/printout/0,8816,1151784,00.html

[9]. http://news.findlaw.com/ap/o/51/01-23-2006/c6cb000c6a84fd18.html

[10]. http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us/msa/mdmanual/01glance/html/nickname.html

[11]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civic_virtue

[12]. See, David McCullough’s excellent book, “1776.”

[13]. http://www.firedupmaryland.com/node/175

[14]. http://www.mddems.org/ht/d/ReleaseDetails/i/724272

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