Day By Day

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Maryland Politics -- Ehrlich Exercises the Veto

Governor Ehrlich is on a roll, vetoing a bunch of legislation. The one that has gotten national attention has to do with Walmart.

The L.A. Times reports:
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoed a bill aimed at making Wal-Mart pay higher health care benefits or contribute more to Medicaid and said the measure threatened the economic health of the community.

The retail giant plans a distribution center in this lower Eastern Shore town. Ehrlich was joined at the veto ceremony by a Wal-Mart executive and 200 people, including a handful of protesters. A high school band played "God Bless America."

The Fair Share Health Care Act, passed by lawmakers in April, would require a company with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on health care benefits or pay more into the state Medicaid fund. Currently, only Wal-Mart fits that criterion.
Unions criticized the veto.

"Gov. Ehrlich should be ashamed for literally standing with big corporate interests rather than Maryland's working families," John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
Read it here.

The Baltimore Sun adds a little context.
PRINCESS ANNE - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said yesterday that it would delay for three to four years the construction of an 800-job distribution center planned for Somerset County.

The new timeline - 2008 or 2009, rather than this summer - was disclosed shortly before Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed the so-called Wal-Mart bill, which would have required the retail giant to spend 8 percent of its Maryland payroll on health care or pay a tax.
Although Wal-Mart officials attributed the construction delay to new "efficiencies" in its distribution system, Aris Melissaratos, the state economic development secretary, blamed part of the wait on the bill, the first of its kind in the nation.
Read it here.

The Baltimore Reporter has exactly the right slant on this. He writes:
[A]ll this really is just a union, with the Dems. help, busting up a non-union shop. I can think of nothing worse for business in Md then this bill. Kudos for the Gov.
Read it here.

I agree. I also note that Wal-Mart is playing rough too. Their decision to hold up construction of the super-center store on the Eastern Shore was entirely due to the uncertainty of this bill's passage. Democrats are threatening to override the veto, in which case the store will never be built and Eastern Shore working-class consumers will suffer. It is Ehrlich and low-cost distributors like Wal-Mart, not the unions in this case, who are serving the interests of the working people of Maryland.

And while he was at it Gov. Ehrlich vetoed a bunch of other bills that the Democrats had forced through the legislature -- 24 of them in total.

Of course it's not surprising which one the WaPo focused on. It reports:

Ehrlich Vetoes Bill Extending Rights to Gay Couples

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed a bill yesterday that would have granted rights to gay partners who register with the state, concluding after weeks of intense deliberations that the legislation threatened "the sanctity of traditional marriage."

The emotionally charged bill was among 24 that Ehrlich (R) rejected yesterday afternoon, including legislation to raise the state's minimum wage by $1, allow early voting in elections and heighten oversight of the state's troubled juvenile justice system. Another measure sought by gay rights activists that would have extended a property transfer tax exemption to domestic partners was also scuttled.

Already we're gearing up for the next round of elections and Ehrlich is taking a strong pro-business, anti-gay stance. His opponent in the upcoming elections will be Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, and the lines are being drawn. O'Malley's base is in the city of Baltimore and PG County, where there are heavy concentrations of black voters. Gay activism is notoriously unpopular in black communities, especially regarding attempts by gay activists to identify themselves with the larger civil rights movement. The gay veto will cost Ehrlich no votes and might gain him some in a traditionally Democrat constituency, especially since there in no black candidate for them to vote for.

Ehrlich is also gaining cover within his own party. The WaPo reports:
In recent weeks, he has signed hundreds of bills passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature. And aides said that next week, Ehrlich plans to sign a measure that would add sexual orientation as a protected class under Maryland's hate crimes law -- a move opposed by most in his party.
This veto will go a long way toward placating Ehrlich's critics on the religious right and will firm up his credentials as a moderate [although the WaPo, quoting "progressive" activists disagrees and seeks to portray him as a captive of the far right].
"I think it's just breathtaking that he's casting his lot with the right wing of his party," said Tom Hucker, executive director of Progressive Maryland....
Left-wing Democrats think that this culture wars stuff is going to win for them -- they're wrong, flat wrong.

Read the WaPo semi-hit piece here.

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