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Baltimore Sun

Fishing for endorsements, Maryland style

Here we go again.

A group of fishermen--yes, they all are men--has sent out a letter to Maryland anglers urging them to re-elect Martin O'Malley governor.

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The letter is signed by Recreational Fishing Alliance founder (and New Jersey resident) Jim Donofrio "and friends." They're having a $50 a head fund-raising rally at Sandy Point State Park Sunday afternoon. The friends include well-known Maryland anglers and three members of a state fisheries advisory group appointed by O'Malley.

I'm having a flashback to October 2002.

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Back then, several leaders of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen's Association decided it would be a good idea to endorse Kathleen Kennedy Townsend over Bob Ehrlich for governor.

On a rainy Monday morning in Cecil County, they stood behind her (in their MSSA jackets) as she thanked them for their support. Joining them in endorsing her was a representative of RFA.

When complaints started pouring in from Ehrlich backers, the MSSA men claimed they were just there to hear her speech--from a swell listening post BEHIND HER. And they blamed me for covering the event, which they and RFA had invited me to.

Talk about profiles in courage.

The bloodbath was enough to keep the lid on endorsement parties four years ago, when Ehrlich lost to O'Malley.

But apparently time wounds all heels.

This week's letter, addressed to "Dear Recreational Angler and Fellow Sportsman," is approved by Jim Gracie, the chairman of the Sport Fisheries Advisory Commission and a founder of Maryland Trout Unlimited; Roger Trageser, president of the Maryland Bass Federation and a member of the Sport Fisheries group; Scott Sewell, conservation director of the Maryland Bass Federation who was dismissed as Natural Resources Police superintendent by Ehrlich; Larry Coburn, a guide and member of the Sport Fisheries group; Bruce Eberle, a member of Trout Unlimited; Torrey C. Brown, former secretary of the Department of Natural Resources; and Bill Windley, former president of MSSA and a member of the Sport Fisheries group.

They say their support is based on five O'Malley accomplishments:

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• Keeping a commitment to match license fee revenue which has allowed DNR to expand efforts to protect, conserve, and enhance fishing opportunities in Maryland;

• Passing legislation to comply with National Saltwater Anglers Registry;

• Increasing the capacity and focus of Natural Resources Police via the Conservation Law Enforcement Act;

• Increasing penalties for poachers and closing loopholes in natural resource law;

• Continuing to enhance the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem.

I'll give them the first and last claims. But O'Malley can no more pass legislation than the General Assembly can sign it.

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As for the effect of the Conservation Law Enforcement Act, it isn't worth the paper it's written on, thanks to the Democratic members of the State Senate who gutted it. And while O'Malley did pay for a new Natural Resources Police academy class, retirements and resignations have wiped out any gain. Plus, the O'Malley administration eliminated the force-multiplying helicopter unit.

(On the other hand, the Ehrlich administration played parlor tricks with the actual number of officers by combining NRP and Park Rangers under a "streamlining" effort. The amount of territory to police grew while the number of officers actually fell.)

It's also interesting that Donofrio, who has painted President Obama as the Devil incarnate on fishing issues, will be standing next to O'Malley, who stood next to Obama Monday at a jobs bill signing. And the president has done a 60-second radio spot for O'Malley, who he calls, "my friend."

Silly season is here. Let the games begin.


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