GOP and the stimulus: What would Bob Ehrlich do?
The big political news over the weeked was that several GOP governors, led by Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi are rejecting part of the economic stimulus money coming from the Obama administration. In a move that could be genius or idiocy depending on how things turn out, they're sticking to a polition the conservative base loves in spite of current high poll ratings for the president and his handling of the economic crisis.
In particular, they've pledged to reject increased aid for unemployment benefits because taking the money would require the states to extend eligibility to part-time workers. They say they don't want to do that because they'd be stuck with the policy change after the federal money runs out. Gov. O'Malley was pushing for such a change in Maryland before the federal money kicked in, and many other states do this already anyway.
But it leads me to wonder, if Bob Ehrlich were governor, would he have rejected the money? I think he probably would have. GOP governors in other liberal states (notably, California) are taking pretty hard stands against their fellow Republicans who are rejecting the money. But I don't think that necessarily means Ehrlich in relatively liberal Maryland would have taken the cash.
One of his formative political experiences was as part of the group of freshmen Republican congressmen elected in the Gingrich revolution of 1994, and he was steeped in the take-no-prisoners ethos of the time. When he came back to Annapolis, his greatest strength or weakness, depending on what side you were on, was his stubbornness in sticking to a philosophical position even when it wasn't politically expedient. Note, for example, the case of the medical malpractice legislation in 2003; he called a special session to deal with a crisis he'd spent months discussing and then vetoed what the legislature came up with.
Did he stick to his principles? Yes. Did it help him politically? Probably not, particularly since the dire consequences he predicted as a result of the legislation the General Assembly enacted over his veto never came to pass. Quite the contrary, malpractice insurance rates have stabilized. That's the kind of risk Republican governors face now: If the stimulus works (or is at least perceived to work) they could look pretty foolish. But if it falls flat, they could look prescient. My hunch is, that's a bet Ehrlich would have been willing to make.