Sticky oil debate
Gulf oil continued oozing into Maryland politics today with the Democratic Party blasting former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s for failing to “come clean” about his “dirty record” on offshore drilling.
The issue hasn’t been discussed much here, but the Gulf of Mexico oil spill combined with President Barack Obama’s proposal to lease land off the coast of Virginia for drilling sparked some curiosity. A story in Monday’s Sun discussed the candidates’ views on nearby drilling.
In a nutshell: Gov. Martin O’Malley has consistently opposed nearby drilling and recently asked the Obama Administration for a flat out prohibition. The president has backed away from the proposal.
Ehrlich’s record, however, was difficult to find. He referred detailed questions to his spokesman. The closest we came while researching was a 2005 Baltimore Sun story on how a congressional debate about lifting the mid-Atlantic drilling ban could affect Virginia politics. Ehrlich’s office could not be reached for the story, we reported at the time.
The Democrats, however, unearthed a 2008 tape from the Ehrlich’s weekly WBAL radio show, where he repeated the “Drill, Baby, Drill” slogan that was coined by his former lieutenant governor - Michael Steele. According to the Democratic Party, Ehrlich said: “Don’t forget Michael Steele, lieutenant governor: Drill, Baby, Drill…Drill, Baby, Drill!”
Tantalizing as the quote is in the search for an answer – it isn’t necessarily a clear representation of Ehrlich's view. Ehrlich’s deputy press secretary, Allison Jessie, provided a full version of the tape from the Sept. 6 show, which featured conservative blogger Richard Vatz as a guest.
In the segment Vatz rehashed highlights from the Republican National Convention, touching on speeches by Sen. John McCain and Sarah Palin. Time was running short and Ehrlich cut in:
Ehrlich: And don’t forget Michael Steele. Lieutenant Governor. Drill baby drill.
Vatz: I don’t know why CNN didn’t cover him. I thought Michael Steele should have been covered to show …(inaudible)
Ehrlich: It is a shame they didn’t go to him. In any event, good job Lieutenant Governor. And professor, great job, thank you.
Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth explained that the former governor was “apparently quoting Michael Steele, but not agreeing with him.” He said the Democratic party was “misrepresenting” Ehrlich’s view. “Yes he voiced the words. He is quoting somebody else.”
The Democrats also point to 2001 vote Ehrlich cast on the Interior Department appropriations bill - saying Ehrlich supported a measure to “open parts of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling exploration.”
The bill allowed drilling in 1.47 million new acres of the eastern Gulf, according to Democratic Party spokesman Isaac Salazar. However, it was less than the 6 million acres the Bush administration had initially wanted to open, Salazar said. And virtually all Democrats in the House supported it according to the roll call vote.
Another vote Democrats highlighted reduced hazardous waste cleanup liability for small businesses. The bill also attracted bipartisan support, passed in the House of Representatives 419 to 0.