Ehrlich's back in Morella's comfort zone


Just as in last fall's campaign, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former Rep. Constance A. Morella found themselves sharing a political stage last week.

The difference was that this time, the joint appearance was equally comfortable for both Republicans.

During the campaign, Morella and her staff were uneasy about being featured in an Ehrlich political advertisement promoting him as a moderate.

For Morella, it wasn't personal, but rather a matter of timing: The TV spot was released as she was in a battle to prevent Democrat Christopher Van Hollen Jr. from taking her congressional seat in the heavily Democratic Washington suburbs.

It wasn't in the political interest of Morella, long popular among crossover Democratic and independent voters, to be closely tied with Ehrlich. Many of the abortion-rights and gun-safety groups backing Morella had loudly raised concerns about Ehrlich's congressional record.

But that was in September. Ehrlich went on to win, and Morella to lose. And on Wednesday, Ehrlich appeared at the head table during a dinner honoring Morella for her 16 years of service in Congress and eight in Maryland's House of Delegates.

It couldn't have hurt Ehrlich politically to appear at a Silver Spring country club with an overflow crowd of 1,200 Morella admirers. Her supporters - many of them Democrats - had long indicated a willingness to vote for the person instead of the party.

The governor said he was there, like everyone else, to pay homage to the guest of honor. "There's the old cliche, 'Nice guys finish last.' Well, nice people can finish first," he said. "With Connie, it's more than being likable. It's class."

Other guests included two Republican congressmen, Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore and Amo Houghton of New York.

Among the evening's highlights was a video in which family and friends reminisced about Morella's energy, charm and legislative talents. The video also featured a clip from President Bush.

"She speaks clearly," Bush said in the video.

"After all, she was an English professor. A lot of people probably think I need to spend a little quality time with her."

More uncharted territory for the new governor

In yet another sign that Maryland's new Republican governor is something of a cause celebre, Bob Ehrlich was invited to his first Alfalfa Club dinner on Jan. 25.

The 90-year-old club - named for a plant that will stretch to great lengths for liquids - exists solely to hold an annual party that attracts the elite of the nation's capital. The news media are not invited, and the member list is guarded.

Presidents typically attend, and George W. Bush was no exception this year. Ehrlich said he was seated at a table that included Laura Bush, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

Not bad company for the kid from Arbutus.

Senator sees hidden value in pesky red-light cameras

Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick County hates red-light cameras. He says they "pick the pockets of hard-working Marylanders." He's got a bill to get rid of them.

But the machines prove his car is still in one piece.

Two days before Mooney was sworn in, his 1999 Saturn was stolen. As of last week, he had not gotten the car back. But he did receive two red-light violation notices - complete with photographs of the car in Cheverly and Arlington, Va. - in his mailbox.

When Mooney told his tale of woe on the Senate floor, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller offered a friendly suggestion: "Have you considered the Hecht campaign?" Miller was referring to Mooney's rival, former Del. Sue Hecht, whom he bested in an ugly race marked by charges of computer theft and vandalism.

Perhaps Mooney might also want to upgrade his license plate. The violation photos show Ehrlich and Mooney bumper stickers book-ending a plain-vanilla tag. A "Maryland Senate" license plate - popular with many of his colleagues - might also be a theft deterrent.

Valued autograph can be easy as walk to courthouse

When the Maryland Humanities Council sent a gray-bearded actor portraying Frederick Douglass into the Senate chambers last week to make a speech, it provided an opportunity for Miller to display his love of history - and his frugality.

Miller said he collects signatures of Douglass, born on a plantation near Easton. He often distributes the signatures to friends, who are invariably impressed at receiving a valuable artifact of a historical figure. But they shouldn't be, Miller said.

"Republicans gave him a patronage job as recorder of deeds in Washington, D.C.," Miller said. "People don't realize he signed 10,000 deeds."

State taxing structure gets middling grade

Governing magazine gives Maryland's taxing structure middling grades, according to a report released yesterday. The state gets two of four stars in two categories - "adequacy of revenue" and "fairness to taxpayers" ---and three of four stars for "management of system."

In sum, not bad, but not great.

The magazine gives the state kudos for addressing education adequacy questions before being hit by a lawsuit, through the Thornton Commission. But questions about how to pay the plan's $1.3 billion price tag trouble the study's authors.

"The size of the budget crisis is partially attributable to over-reliance on an income tax that is dramatically susceptible to an economic downturn," Governing's authors wrote. "Almost half the state's revenues come from that source. Matters weren't helped any by a 10 percent individual income tax cut the state enacted in 1997 - to be phased in through five installments of 2 percent apiece."

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