Josh Kurtz: A Triple Play of Political Shame – An Indictment of the Ehrlich Campaign, Maryland’s Fumble on Gay Marriage, and the Prince George’s Ethical Saga

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What do you get when the Andrea Doria meets the Titanic?

You get Newt Gingrich speaking to the Maryland Republican Party!

That’s not entirely fair. It disrespects doomed luxury liners everywhere.

What can you say about Newt Gingrich? Don’t believe he’s smart? Just ask him. And he gives a great speech. But a skid row wino is less addled and delusional – and has a better chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination.

And what can you say about the Maryland GOP? It’s too early to tell whether the new chairman, former state Sen. Alex Mooney, is moving the party forward and doing enough to break from the past. Because the past keeps biting Mooney and state Republicans in the rear end.

It’s a little reminiscent of what’s going on in Prince George’s County right now. Every time new County Executive Rushern Baker (D) pushes some new initiative or makes a key hire, the circus surrounding his predecessor, Jack Johnson (D), comes back to town. Who’s able to evaluate whether Baker is actually doing anything worthy when Johnson and his corrupt cohorts are sucking all the oxygen out of the room?

Poor Alex Mooney. A week before the party’s biggest fundraiser of his tenure, two top campaign operatives of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) -- including Paul Schurick, possibly the strategist most responsible for getting Ehrlich to Government House to begin with -- are indicted for allegedly attempting to suppress the African-American vote last Election Day.

It was an unwelcome reminder for Mooney and Maryland Republicans that the Ehrlich Era – really, the only era worth talking about for the state GOP in the last 30 years, but one whose time has surely passed – isn’t quite over.

Ehrlich deigned to show up at the GOP funder – according to media accounts, he visited the VIP room before ducking out, giving the slip to reporters who no doubt wanted to question him about the indictments of Schurick and Julius Henson.

But that’s Ehrlich; the son of Arbutus is most comfortable with the VIPs these days. And he never really did anything to build the party when he was ascending – or when he was governor. So why should anyone be surprised when he bypasses the rank and file now?

As for giving the media the proverbial extended middle finger, that’s a gesture Ehrlich has perfected through the years. But there’s no small irony in it: Ehrlich, after all, aspires to be a talking head now that his political career is over.

Poor Ehrlich – Michael Steele, his No. 2 in Annapolis, who drove the Republican National Committee into crippling debt in part so he could live the high life on the party dime, is already getting paid as an MSNBC (liberal media) analyst. Who’s paying Ehrlich for his glib views?

Much ink has been spilled already about the Schurick and Henson indictments. The crazy unknown is, did either of these seasoned hands actually think they could turn the election Ehrlich’s way by keeping black people from voting – three or four hours before the polls were set to close?

What no one has written about is that Schurick and Henson are known entities in Maryland’s small political universe (though some would say that Henson is unknowable). We know these guys. Schurick is a nice and engaging man and a good operative. Henson is not so nice – at least that’s the image he cultivates – and a good operative.

Will either work again if they’re convicted? Will they work again if they’re acquitted?

Schurick has apparently already been talking to potential 2014 statewide candidates about consulting gigs. And some candidate or other will always desire the services of a Julius Henson.

Ehrlich wasn’t the only player touched by this scandal who clammed up after the indictments. Also M.I.A.: Marilyn Bland (D), the new Prince George’s clerk of courts, whose voter list Henson allegedly used to call African-American voters to keep them from going to the polls. Where’s the outrage from Bland, a former Henson client? Silence. But knowing Bland, we shouldn’t be surprised. Henson helped her get what she wanted, and that’s that.

As for the future of the state GOP, Alex Mooney is a smart guy who knows how to raise money and rile up the Republican base. And he may have been handed a gift, if the referendum to overturn the state DREAM Act makes it to the ballot.

But Mooney has to prove he’s more serious about party building than the Ehrlich crowd was – cynics suspect he sought the chairmanship to keep his name in the news in advance of a likely run for Congress. But like poor Rushern Baker, Mooney can’t make too much progress as long as the case against Schurick and Henson dominates the headlines – and defines the Maryland Republican Party.

* * *

Speaking of Republicans, kudos to four Republican members of the New York state Senate for supporting gay marriage last week – and to the Senate GOP leadership for allowing a vote to go forward.

For Maryland supporters of gay marriage, there is reason to be excited by the New York vote. But there’s also a twinge of embarrassment and regret – why didn’t it happen here first? If Republicans from Poughkeepsie and Rochester could vote for gay marriage, why were Democrats from Prince George’s and Baltimore so skittish? Why didn’t advocates here adequately make the case?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was masterful both in public and behind the scenes, advocating for the gay marriage bill. Why did our own governor, Martin O’Malley (D), seem so ambivalent – in public, at least?

Still, there is much to learn in Maryland from the successful New York campaign, where it took a large coalition – not just a push from gay rights groups – to get it done. Organized labor was a major player. So too were wealthy Republican donors, who made it clear they’d pony up enough campaign cash to give GOP senators who voted for the bill political cover. Ken Mehlman, whose own journey on the issue of gay marriage has been fascinating to observe, also was instrumental.

Whether or not that kind of coalition can be duplicated in Maryland is anybody’s guess. But it would be nice to see Mehlman back in his home state, working the same magic he worked in New York.

* * *
Years ago, when Richard Nixon suggested that he was grooming his daughter Julie for a political career because “after all, she’s a Nixon and an Eisenhower,” the cartoonist Edward Sorel published a wicked drawing of Julie Nixon Eisenhower lugging a golf bag in one hand and holding her other hand out to receive a bribe.

We were somehow reminded of that image over the weekend as we read that Prince George’s County Councilwoman Leslie Johnson (D), who is due back in court later this week, possibly for a plea deal, has become a mentor of sorts to Council President Ingrid Turner (D) and another first-term councilwoman, Karen Toles (D). What does that mean, exactly? Unfortunately, we can only imagine the worst.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

White Prince George's

A DREAM Denied?

Frack This!

The Undercard

Talking Union Blues

The Peter Principle

Mapmaker, Mapmaker Make Me a Map

Two More Giants Exit the Maryland Scene

Six Degrees of William Donald Schaefer

The Lion in Winter

O’Malley’s (Coast to Coast) March

This Time It's Personal

Seinfeld in Maryland

The First 107 Days

Team of Rivals?

Rob Garagiola’s Political Highway

Blame the Teachers!
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.