Ehrlich launches first TV attack ad
In the new spot, Ehrlich calls out Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, for failing to deliver on a 2006 campaign pledge to prevent an expected 72 percent increase in electricity bills. The ad also claims that O'Malley gave "the bureaucrat" who approved the increase a huge raise.
A no-nonsense female narrator points to those actions as evidence O'Malley lacks credibility on his more current promises that Maryland is emerging from a recession. As a kicker, Ehrlich reminds viewers about a new report showing that the state lost jobs last month.
“Four years ago Martin O’Malley misled us. Now he’s just making stuff up,” the not-very-friendly narrators says.
The ad signals a clear shift for Ehrlich who as recently Wednesday stressed the importance of keeping an upbeat and positive tone on the campaign trail. He's frequently said that voters aren't interested in political bickering while consumed with worries about their future.
He's also bristled as the word "grudge-match," encouraging reporters to characterize the race as a "re-match." But by leading off with an attack ad about BGE rates, he dredges up the dominate theme of the 2006 election.
Before getting to the meat of the ad, it is worth noting that Ehrlich uses unorthodox jobs numbers in the spot – he states that the state's economy lost 7,000 positions citing a Department of Labor report that is not generally thought of as an accurate count of lay-offs. The more commonly used report shows that Maryland lost 5,700 jobs in August.
Appreciating, or even just following, the balance of the ad (BGE portion) requires a brief history lesson. (after the jump)
Seven years later, in March 2006, the cap expired and Public Service Commission, which oversees the electricity sector, announced that rates would go up by 72 percent by that summer. Global energy prices were soaring, according to BGE and the time had come to pay the bill.
Outrage ensued. Protesters on behalf of the consumers marched on the Roland Park home of Mayo A. Shattuck, who runs BGE’s parent company Constellation Energy and others chanted slogans outside the PSC’s office.
In response the General Assembly met for a special session and passed a bill that delayed the bulk of the increase for one year and fired some members of the PSC. (The dismissals were overruled by a court.)
The debacle occurred just as O’Malley, then a Baltimore mayor, was campaigning hard for his current job. He seized on the issue, calling for the resignation of the PSC’s chairman Kenneth D. Schisler and also directed the Baltimore city solicitor to sue the PSC for failing to consider all the facts when it voted to increase rates -- and a court ultimately found Ehrlich's PSC should have done more homework. It was a shrewd political move: The increase threatened to directly hit the pocketbooks of 1.2 million in the state and many closely followed every incremental development.
But six months after O'Malley took office the PSC voted to increase rates by 50 percent. That, taken with the scheduled hike the General Assembly allowed inflated bills to the threatened 72 percent. O'Malley blamed Ehrlich era missteps.
The governor also played hardball with the company to claw back money. Those efforts were far more successful. And O’Malley’s team noted, in response to the ad, that the governor secured rebates and reduced future payments by $1.5 billion by insisting that Constellation take over the decommissioning costs for the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant.
O’Malley’s team seems to be using the ad to pick up where they left off in 2006, turning the blame for the rate hikes on Ehrlich’s handpicked PSC, and saying that as governor Ehrlich was overly cozy with the energy industry. “The BGE rate hikes were a major boondoggle of Bob Ehrlich's failed term as governor, and a big reason why Maryland voters fired him with cause in 2006,” said O’Malley campaign manager Tom Russell in a statement.
The O'Malley campaign also rehashed a 2004 episode where the head of the PSC panel, Schisler, fired five experienced staff members. Democratic commissioners complained at the time that they were not consulted and that the staffers provided helpful expertise in the complex field.
O’Malley’s team also noted that Ehrlich vetoed eight ratepayer relief bills that passed in that 2006 special session, including one that capped rate increase at 15 percent and fired some members of the PSC. The General Assembly overrode.
Furthermore, O'Malley's can now point to the fact that rates are expected to be back to the 2006 levels because of favorable prices on the global energy market.