Bob and Kendel Ehrlich are no strangers to talk radio, but two things were different about the former first couple's appearance on WBAL-AM yesterday: They were getting paid, and perhaps for the first time, the former governor tried to bite his tongue.
A little bit, anyway.
The Ehrlichs launched their new weekly call-in show yesterday morning (whether it's The Bob and Kendel Show, The Kendel and Bob Show or, as one caller suggested, Kendel and Her Ball and Chain is yet to be determined), and the Republican former governor sought from the start to set up the fine line he will walk.
He said he'll talk politics and government. The "harsh, far left" agenda of the legislature: fair game. But direct criticism of the man who defeated him in November, Gov. Martin O'Malley, is a no-no, he said.
"I think it's classless," Ehrlich said. "We'll certainly talk about others in Maryland politics, and we'll talk about the issues, particularly these days as the legislature heats up, and this very, very far-left agenda that's taken hold, and make sure the voters and citizens understand how far left this agenda is."
"That being said," Kendel Ehrlich chimed in, "this show is a forum for those of us who feel like we're not being represented at all right now. ... We want to know how you feel about these massive tax increases and how you feel about giving all these rights to illegal immigrants."
Callers to the show weren't always so circumspect -- several of them said they were thinking about moving to another state to get away from the O'Malley administration and the higher taxes they're sure are on the way now that the Democrats are fully in charge in Annapolis.
"We're moving, going south," said a caller who identified himself as Dave. "What I think of the Democratic leadership is unprintable, unsayable on the radio. I hate and despise them."
O'Malley has not proposed any tax increases. Some legislators have -- notably House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who is backing a tobacco tax increase, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who wants a gas tax increase -- but it appears likely that the General Assembly will adjourn in a week without raising any taxes or creating major new revenue sources.
The House passed a bill last week that would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition in Maryland if they went to high school here and their parents pay taxes here. O'Malley backs the idea, saying it would be a waste for the state to invest in children's education through the 12th grade but to hold them back from achieving their potential. Still, the proposal is far from a sure thing in the Senate.
The Ehrlichs didn't get into the nuances of the positions that various Democratic leaders are taking in Annapolis, instead offering up an "I told you so" about O'Malley and others in his party.
"In fairness to the administration, this is what they ran on," Bob Ehrlich said. "It's not a surprise to anybody."
Not all of the two-hour show was focused on the Democrats. A hefty portion of the callers wanted to say how much they liked the Ehrlichs and wished they were still in the governor's mansion. Several of them were old friends of the family, including the first caller to the show, the former governor's first cousin.
The closest any of the callers came to criticizing the former governor came when a man called to question why Ehrlich had endorsed former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for president, given that he espoused gun control while running the city.
Bob Ehrlich, who in addition to his radio gig is writing a book and heading the new Maryland branch of a North Carolina law firm, is the Mid-Atlantic chairman of the Giuliani campaign. The former governor said he has talked to Giuliani about his position extensively and believes he would approach gun control differently on the federal level than he did as leader of the nation's largest city.
About midway through the program, two other former governors, Marvin Mandel and William Donald Schaefer, showed up in the studio, leading to a discussion of which one of them was the best chief executive. (The consensus: Mandel.)
Later, Ehrlich's former lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, and Ehrlich's running mate in 2006, Kristen Cox, called in.
Throughout the show, Bob Ehrlich did most of the talking, with Kendel Ehrlich adding commentary and handling the introductions to each new segment and the station breaks. During commercials, they joked back and forth and high-fived a few times. Ehrlich's old press secretary, Greg Massoni, was on hand to provide advice while they were off the air.
During a pause in the show, Richard E. Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University and a longtime Ehrlich fan, called to chat with the governor off the air.
Bob Ehrlich said Vatz wanted to know whether he thought he could keep up a weekly show without criticizing the current governor. Ehrlich said later that the name "O'Malley" will not cross his lips.
"I think we'll be able to pull this off," Bob Ehrlich said. "People notice if you have an edge or a chip on your shoulder. We moved on. They won, we lost. Got it. But issues continue. Issues live on."