Josh Kurtz: All I Want for Christmas Is Bob Ehrlich’s Book (Plus: A Meditation on Tom Perez)

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One-term Republican governor of a heavily Democratic state.

Son of a car salesman. Elected in 2002. Never a hair out of place. Had hits and misses during his single term in office, but was generally considered -- at least by the standards of modern Republicanism -- fairly moderate.

Now he’s well on his way to the White House.

We’re talking, of course, about Mitt Romney. But the profile sounds familiar to us Marylanders, doesn‘t it?

Don’t believe Bob Ehrlich, the one-term Republican governor of a heavily Democratic state, son of a car salesman, etc. etc., is jealous? Then why has he written an attention-seeking book, with one of those homespun “let me offer prescriptions for society’s ills” titles, which includes provocative passages that guarantee the author invitations on talk shows?

In recent days, Ehrlich has conceded to interviewers that his career in Maryland politics is finished. But, as he brightly points out, that doesn’t preclude a different kind of political future.

So it’s worth contemplating just what Ehrlich might be campaigning for. A career as a national pundit?

Sorry, governor. While you’ve performed nimbly enough during your infrequent appearances on “Hardball,” Michael Steele has cornered the market for has-been Maryland politicians on MSNBC. He does a pretty good job there, too, smartly parrying liberals’ questions about the Republican mindset, shaking his head sadly when the hosts make snarky but accurate points about the GOP White House field. (Just curious: Are the MSNBC hosts forbidden from mentioning the $20 million debt Steele rang up as chairman of the Republican National Committee? Sure seems that way.)

Of course, Ehrlich could join the stable of ex-governors over at Fox News, but he lacks the sex appeal of Sarah Palin or the evangelical fervor of Mike Huckabee. Better, in Ehrlich’s case, to stick with cameos on “The Junkies.”

Is Ehrlich campaigning for a cabinet position in the Romney administration? He wouldn’t be the first ex-politician to do something like that. But what job would he be suitable for? Secretary of Whining About Republicans’ Inability to Win the African-American Vote? Ambassador for Debunking Multiculturalism?

Ehrlich has the political chops to do a job like RNC chairman reasonably well. But chances are, President Romney will want a loyalist there when the time comes. For despite their similar profiles, Romney and Ehrlich are dramatically different personalities, with starkly different backgrounds and widely divergent records.

Romney, a former CEO, actually found a way to work with the heavily Democratic legislature and passed significant legislation. Ehrlich, who has spent most of his adult life on the public teat, thought that because he once shared a beach house with Mike Busch and used to play basketball with the likes of Nat Oaks, his Democratic ex-buddies would help him out with his agenda. Instead, he ran into a buzz saw of opposition, and fumed about monopolies and conspiracies rather than roll up his sleeves and work hard.

Ironically, even as he was being drummed out of office by Martin O’Malley in 2006, Ehrlich’s personal popularity among voters remained fairly high. Romney’s numbers sunk so fast in Massachusetts that he abandoned the idea of seeking re-election in 2006, figuring it would jeopardize his presidential ambitions. Publisher Tina Brown says that Mitt Romney reminds women of their first husbands. Ehrlich, the affable son of Arbutus, at least seems like a guy you’d want to hang out with.

Oh, and that thing about both men being sons of car salesmen? Well, Ehrlich’s dad, Bob Sr., really was a car salesman. Romney’s old man, of course, was president of American Motors, a former governor of Michigan, and a former secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Nixon administration.

Bob Ehrlich will certainly be in line for something if Romney is elected. But the timing of this book -- and some of its contents -- nevertheless seems puzzling, especially as two Ehrlich campaign aides are on trial on charges that they attempted to suppress the black vote during his rematch with O’Malley last year. It’s easy enough to draw a bright line between Ehrlich’s observation that African-Americans wouldn’t vote for him because they needed to “protect their investment” in President Obama and the alleged activities of Paul Schurick and Julius Henson.

In much the same way that the notion of O’Malley running for president in 2016 seems absurd sometimes, so does the notion that Ehrlich has written a book to enhance his chances of entering the national conversation and landing somewhere, eventually. But you’ve got to have a gimmick in politics these days, and Ehrlich’s apparently is saying things to make the arbiters of political correctness gasp. Sadly, the idea that you compile a solid record and hope it yields the recognition you deserve was thrown out years ago.

But while the current and former governors envision their futures, one ex-Maryland official is proving you can be enormously effective at the federal level without actually running for national office.

In his position as assistant attorney general for Civil Rights, Tom Perez is in the thick of many important battles, from fighting the new anti-immigration laws in Alabama and elsewhere, to examining the legality of new voter ID laws that are popping up like weeds in Republican-run states, to vetting congressional and legislative redistricting proposals throughout the country.

The latter is perhaps Perez’s most important role, as states set their political boundaries for the next decade. This is the first time the Democrats have run the Justice Department during a redistricting cycle since JFK was president. But Perez has been judicious in picking his battles; to the surprise and dismay of some liberals, the civil rights division has already approved some Southern states’ redistricting plans.

As they look over the 2014 landscape, Maryland political insiders wonder whether Perez, a former Montgomery County councilman and labor secretary under O’Malley, and an erstwhile 2006 candidate for attorney general, will run for office. It’s fair to say the answer depends in part on Obama’s fate.

If the president is re-elected, there seems to be little reason for Perez to return to the Maryland scene. He could wind up in Obama’s cabinet in a second term -- maybe as Labor secretary, maybe even as AG -- so why not seize that opportunity?

Even if there is no Obama second term, January 2013 may be late for Perez to start putting together a statewide campaign, considering how many wannabe governors and AG’s and comptrollers are already scurrying around out there.

On the other hand, Perez likes to say that politics is “situational,” and you can’t always plan for it. Sometimes an opportunity presents itself that is too powerful to resist.

Seems like Perez, by doing good, is also doing well -- and has put himself in a pretty good situation, regardless of what he decides to do next. At least he won’t have to resort to writing a book that airs out old grievances and attempts to cover up a record that was pretty flimsy, when all was said and done.

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

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Road to Nowhere

Hoyer on Currie: ‘The system works’

Why Glenn Ivey Will Win — And Why He Won’t

Around the Horn: Maryland Register, IRV, Uly Currie

Oh Donna (and Valerie)

Bartlett Pared

Van Hollen’s Lament

P.G. Law

Race and Races

The Company He Keeps
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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.