Ehrlichs Go on the Air With Careful Criticism
O'Malley Not Named Specifically in Debut Show

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 1, 2007; C04

BALTIMORE, March 31 -- Any notion that former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s new radio show will render approval of the direction Annapolis has taken since the arrival of his successor -- that kind of went out the window Saturday at the five-minute, 32-second mark.

"It's far left. It's harsh left. It's something that we haven't seen ever in the state, quite frankly," Ehrlich said into his microphone. "The Democratic Party has changed in very fundamental ways."

Co-host and wife Kendel Ehrlich amplified the point while encouraging listeners to call in: "We want to hear from you, what you feel about this massive tax increase and what you feel about giving all these rights to illegal immigrants."

With that, the Ehrlichs launched what will be a weekly, Saturday-morning show on Baltimore's WBAL radio. They never mentioned Gov. Martin O'Malley by name, honoring -- to a certain degree -- their pledge not to make things "personal." But they repeatedly linked the current administration to a host of what they called left-leaning activities in Annapolis.

The Ehrlichs also scored a coup with their first in-studio guests: former governors William Donald Schaefer and Marvin Mandel, both Democrats. The hosts took about a dozen calls, encouraging several despondent listeners not to head to such places as Florida or Guam.

"Do not get bummed out," former governor Ehrlich said as the show closed. "Stay. Do not move."

He has long been the Republican rock star in a deeply Democratic state. Raised just outside Baltimore -- radio listeners couldn't miss that in his accent -- Ehrlich went on to play linebacker at Princeton University, serve in Congress and win Maryland's governor's office in 2002. He was the first Republican to do so since Spiro Agnew in 1966.

Last year, then-Baltimore Mayor O'Malley dashed Ehrlich's bid for reelection, capturing 52.7 percent of the vote to Ehrlich's 46.2 percent.

More recently, the Maryland General Assembly has talked about boosting the sales tax next year. The House of Delegates passed a bill to offer in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants. And both the House and Senate voted to place environmental regulations on cars and dish soap and to ban smoking in restaurants.

Listening to at least part of the show Saturday was Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's press secretary. He declined later to comment specifically on the show but said O'Malley is bent on making Maryland's government more efficient and improving the state's education, health-care, transportation and public-safety systems. "I don't think that's liberal or conservative," Abbruzzese said.

The Ehrlichs kicked off their show at 9:06 a.m. A recording of a deep-toned announcer, affecting hip-sounding radio inflections, introduced them:

"Just your average Annapolis power couple," the announcer said, "whose neighbors happen to be the entire state of Maryland -- it's the Ehrlichs, Bob and Kendel."

The couple sat in front of large, swivel-arm mounted microphones. Shortly, a computer monitor showed a listener on the line.

More calls soon poured in. As the listeners told screeners what they wanted to talk about, those intentions flashed onto the Ehrlichs' monitor.

"Terry, Perry Hall, 2nd amendment and gas tax."

"Robert, Owings Mills, how to vote against illegal immigration."

"Mark . . . What do we do now after this election to prepare for 2008/2010."

Keep the faith, the former governor told them; don't move. On illegal immigrants, he advocated a path toward citizenship that would include payment of back taxes and possible sanctions.

Midway through the show, Schaefer, 85, and Mandel, 86, walked quietly into the studio. They sat on stools, waiting to be interviewed, their feet dangling.

On the air, Schaefer called Mandel the best Maryland governor ever, citing Ehrlich as second-best.

During a break, Ehrlich fielded a personal phone call from Richard Vatz, a friend and communications professor at Towson University. Vatz asked Ehrlich about his on-air pledge not to criticize O'Malley personally and wondered how he could keep it if callers steered the conversation toward the current governor. Ehrlich said he could.

"People like that," Ehrlich told him. "They like the high-road thing."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company