Bob Ehrlich is taking his own advice, as offered in the title of his new book, "Turn This Car Around." The former governor is putting Maryland in his rear-view mirror.
"The book is not for a Maryland audience," the former governor said Tuesday as he launched a local and national media blitz to promote the book. "It was written with a national perspective in mind."
While Ehrlich still lives in Annapolis, he says the book, subtitled "The Road Map to Restoring America," is his pitch for a voice in national politics after having lost his last two campaigns for Maryland governor.
"'Are you done with politics?'" the Republican said he was repeatedly asked after losing to Gov. Martin O'Malley in a rematch last year. "My answer is, I'm done with Maryland politics."
"Turn This Car Around" joins an increasingly crowded shelf of books written by current, former and aspiring officeholders — the GOP presidential field alone needs its own section — and by the media punditry class that many politicians join in between campaigns. The Ehrlich book is organized in chapters that have him "taking on" issues such as race, the fiscal crisis and criminal justice.
Ehrlich is noncommittal on whether he hopes the book will lead to a regular talking-head role but said he has lined up appearances on such popular cable fare as "Hannity," "Fox and Friends" and "Morning Joe" in advance of the book's Dec. 6 release. He also sees the book as a road map of issues to be addressed should Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whom Ehrlich supports for president, be elected next year.
Elevating Ehrlich's public profile from local to national might take some doing, said Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
"Bob Ehrlich is not overwhelmingly known outside Maryland," said Eberly, who has hosted the former governor on campus. "He's never really been viewed as a national spokesman for the Republican Party."
Maryland, a small state that is considered a Democratic stronghold, gets minimal attention in national GOP circles. But Eberly and others say Ehrlich could use his distinction of having governed in such a state as part of his appeal.
Justin Ready, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said he sees the book and any political commentator role the former governor adopts as a "natural fit for him."
"He would be good on TV, and we've already seen him on radio," said Ready, referring to Ehrlich's experience as a regular guest and host on WBAL. "What you want on radio and TV is forceful, strong opinions, but you also want the knowledge to back that up."
Ehrlich's book strikes many of the same themes currently sounded by other GOP figures, with its jabs at the usual suspects (the liberal media, public-sector unions) and its appeal for common sense rather than political correctness. But it also revisits Ehrlich's triumphs and frustrations as a Republican politician in what he calls "dark-blue" Maryland.
The book details how he believes his unsuccessful 2010 bid to reclaim the governor's office was "swamped" by a large turnout of black voters angered by what they considered a racist tea party movement.
"A complete investment in the Obama administration required that any real opposition had to be demonized," Ehrlich writes. "The investment in Barack Obama had to be protected."
Ehrlich said he could not comment on his aide Paul Schurick and the consultant Julius Henson being charged with violating election law by issuing robo-calls that prosecutors say attempted to suppress black turnout in Baltimore and Prince George's County on election night. On the calls, a woman says voters should relax and not worry about going to the polls because O'Malley and Obama "have already been successful." Attorneys for Henson and Schurick have said their clients are innocent; Ehrlich was not accused of wrongdoing.
The book revisits other controversies in which Ehrlich has been involved, such as the state's attempted takeover of Baltimore schools, his statement that multiculturalism is "bunk" and even Britney Spears, whom his wife, Kendel, jokingly said she could shoot for being a bad role model for young women.
Ehrlich said he began writing the book in 2008 and put it "on ice" when he ran for governor last year. He updated it and enlisted the services of an agent, who "threw it out there" and got a bid from BenBella Books, a small, Dallas-based publishing house that agreed to put it out in time for the presidential campaign. Ehrlich said it was minimally edited — he estimates that 99.5 percent of what he originally wrote made it into print.
"I've always believed the words that came out of my mouth were most comfortable when I'd written them," he said, noting that one of his strengths as a politician was that "people believed what I said was what I believed."
The book offers a glimpse of how this straight-talking pol managed to become the first Republican to be elected governor in a generation in Maryland. Ehrlich writes about his modest roots in Arbutus, and how his athletic talents provided a ticket to Gilman, the elite private school where no one quite appreciated his red-and-blue platform shoes that apparently were all the rage in his neighborhood. He writes almost wistfully about what it was like to be a 28-year-old Republican delegate in the General Assembly who was mentored by senior Democratic legislators.
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The contrast to today's climate could not be more stark. But Ehrlich devotes a chapter to what he calls the myth of bipartisanship. He says the call for bipartisanship can be a way of stifling dissent or criticizing those who have legitimate policy differences.
As a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state, Ehrlich at least initially was considered a moderate who didn't always hew to strict party lines. He cites his support for decriminalizing the medical use of marijuana and a more balanced approach to criminal sentencing as examples of what he would call not so much being a moderate as "libertarian-influenced."
Of the current GOP, Ehrlich says, "Some of the social conservatism may not be where I want the party to be, but that's where it is." Much of what he's written, though, falls well in line with the party's issues, from opposition to same-sex marriage to a call for voter identification, which Democrats say is a veiled attempt to discourage minority turnout.
As to his future, Ehrlich offers few clues. For now, he is a partner in the Washington office of the King & Spalding law firm and the proud coach of the Cape St. Claire Cougars, the football team of his 12-year-old son Drew. With his wife, he said, he's been exploring radio and TV options now that political office, at least in Maryland, is off the table.
"It's where Maryland is situated; it's not going to change," Ehrlich said of the state's Democratic "monopoly." "The feeling in Maryland is, we're a subsidiary of the federal government."