Ehrlichs stump in Howard County

Kendel Ehrlich and her husband, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., made separate campaign stops in Howard County over the past week, as confident-sounding county Republicans also met in a Columbia law firm office to raise money for Dennis R. Schrader's County Council run and to boost a campaign to put a tax limit measure on the November ballot.

The former governor spent an hour Tuesday at Tian Chinese restaurant in the Lotte Plaza shopping center in Ellicott City talking to a group of about 25 Korean-American business owners from around the state about his plans to boost small business. Among other things, he said he's opposed to any plan to increase state alcohol beverage tax rates, which haven't changed in decades.

Henry Kim, an accountant, said Ehrlich needs a good slogan like "Yes We Can," the one used with great success in 2008 by President Barack Obama. Kim chanted it several times for effect. Ehrlich said "Take Maryland Back" might do, or his newest one, "More Jobs, Lower Taxes." He dodged a couple of other questions, however, on how he might bolster sagging state social services while also cutting taxes, or eliminate a looming $1.5 billion revenue shortfall.

"Every time we raise taxes, we never get the revenue we expect," Ehrlich said, launching into an explanation of how lower taxes produce more, not less revenue, and how "redesigning government" will eliminate the shortfall. "We did it the first time," Ehrlich said, not mentioning broadly increased fees and fund transfers that helped.

Kendel Ehrlich attended a fundraiser Wednesday night in a rural Mount Airy home to help Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican running for re-election along with Del. Gail H. Bates and state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman.

"Things feel good," the former Maryland first lady told an admiring crowd of about 100 people amid a rainshower. She urged supporters to take a week of vacation to help cover the polls for early voting and on Election Day in November. This election is that important, she said.

"Do you feel it?" she asked the crowd, getting nods and assenting murmurs in return. "You feel like it's a Republican year, a year for change." If elected, she said, her husband would not raise taxes, would roll back the state sales tax increase of 2007, would stop furloughing state workers, and would eliminate a "$3 [billion] to $4 billion deficit." But Democratic incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley, she said without mentioning his name, "has us in a position where there's got to be a huge tax increase." She did not explain how her husband might avoid one.

But although GOP leaders frequently talk about taking back control of the county, not every Republican is opposed to Democratic County Executive Ken Ulman continuing in office.

"I believe that Ken Ulman has lived up to commitments he made to the developers and to the community. Ken has tried to support balanced growth," said Harry "Chip" Lundy, a prominent county homebuilder who attended the Schrader fundraising event along with his old ally, former Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

The gathering was held at the law firm of Davis, Agnor, Rapaport and Skalny, where partner Paul Skalny told the crowd of about 45 people, "We're confident he [Schrader] will prevail." The former councilman is trying to unseat District 3 Democrat Jen Terrasa, who is finishing her first term.

Michael Davis, another partner, was a key organizer in Ecker's 1990 upset win over another incumbent Democrat, then-County Executive Elizabeth Bobo, though he, too, is not a strict party man. Davis also supports Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty's re-election bid for her west Columbia County Council seat, mainly because of her backing of the heavily amended General Growth Properties redevelopment plan for downtown Columbia. But Davis said he backs Schrader, a "friend and kindred spirit" whom he has known for more than 20 years. Schrader ran for the council in 1990, but lost to incumbent Shane Pendergrass. He went on to win a seat in 1994 when Pendergrass switched to the House of Delegates, where she and Bobo now serve.

The referendum campaign is seeking 10,000 valid signatures to place on the ballot a proposed charter change to require four County Council votes to approve any tax increase rather than a simple majority of three of the five members. Estimates are that the campaign will need to gather more than 15,000 signatures to get the required number of valid signatures.

From nonprofit to public service

Nonprofit professionals are always trying to influence elected officials, but they rarely try to become one.

Not so Jodi Finkelstein, the Olney resident who for the past six years has been executive director of Howard County's Domestic Violence Center. A professional social worker in the domestic violence field for 15 years, Finkelstein has submitted her resignation and filed as a Democratic candidate for House of Delegates in District 14, which covers the swath of Montgomery County along the border with Howard County.

The lure, she said, is the chance to make a difference for families in another way and to broaden her horizons. Besides, two of the three incumbent delegates in that district aren't running for re-election, leaving the seats open for newcomers. "So much of my time is spent educating legislators," she said, that the jump seems like a natural progression.

If she wins, the 40-year-old trades a secure $76,000-a-year job for a stressful part-time position paying $43,500 plus expenses. She'd need a second job to survive, she said, but she's going for it anyway. She's resigning from the Domestic Violence Center as of Sept. 30, she said, but is cutting back on hours through the summer to campaign. The organization is searching for a new director.

"This is the biggest risk I've ever taken," she said. "We empower women to take risks all the time. If I can't learn from what I've been teaching, what am I supposed to do? If you don't risk, you don't grow." Besides, she said, "I didn't get into social work to make a million dollars." She's hoping to win the election and then serve on the House Judiciary Committee, known for killing lots of bills that might have helped victims of domestic violence over the years.

"I have learned a lot about the criminal justice system, schools, health care, job security and affordable housing," she said in a campaign fundraising flier.

No surprises

The 5,100-member Howard County Education Association has come out with its primary election endorsements and, to no one's surprise, they're all Democrats. That includes County Executive Ulman, all four Democrats on the County Council and all the Democrats running for General Assembly seats, including three challengers trying to unseat incumbent Republicans in District 9. The endorsements are based, the association said, on questionnaires the candidates submitted about education and on personal interviews.

Union President Ann DeLacy said County Councilman Greg Fox was the only Howard Republican to apply for the group's endorsement, but he didn't get it, even though he has no re-election opponent so far from either party.

Fox called the refusal to endorse him "totally political," since he has supported the school board budget, which is annually in a separate piece of legislation, apart from the overall county operating budget, which he has voted against for four consecutive years. Fox also said that each time he has proposed budget cuts, he's suggested adding the money saved to school projects. "I don't think they did their research," he said.

Kittleman, the District 9 senator, complained that neither he nor Bates and Miller, the other incumbent GOP legislators in Howard, even received questionnaires from the teachers union, but DeLacy said there was a good reason for that. "They were sent to friendly incumbents," DeLacy said. She said Miller voted the Maryland State Education Association's way 11 percent of the time during the past four years. Bates had a 16 percent voting record, and Kittleman a 19 percent voting record, though he scored zero on the teacher union score card this year. Kittleman said the GOP supports education, which doesn't necessarily mean supporting the unions.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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