ANNAPOLIS – Democratic legislators expected a reaction to the letter they sent to President Bush protesting U.S. military action against Iraq.
But they didn’t expect it to come from the governor’s office.
In a strongly worded statement, Gov. Robert Ehrlich chided 11 liberal legislators who sent a letter earlier this week, on General Assembly letterhead, in which they said the war was “not really justified.”
“I find it unfortunate that members not only question the president’s motivations, but also suggested that the war is intended for anything other than the removal of” Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Ehrlich said in a statement Thursday.
Ehrlich, a Republican, also praised President Bush in his statement and said he does not believe that the legislators “represent the majority opinion in Maryland.”
But the Democrats said they could not remain silent.
“I consider it our responsibility to state our views,” said Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard. “I respect (Ehrlich’s) opinion. I’m sure he does not question the fundamental right of people to express their opinions.”
The letter was sent Wednesday to Bush and to the state’s congressional delegation.
“This war, which is sure to kill thousands of innocent children, women and men — including our own valiant soldiers — is not justified by the threat posed by” Hussein, the letter said.
“It appears (the Bush) administration has had one goal from the very beginning: Going to war and imposing its hegemony,” it said.
Besides Bobo, the letter was signed by Democratic delegates Joanne Benson of Prince George’s County, Karen Montgomery of Montgomery County, Frank Turner of Howard County, and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Salima Marriott of Baltimore.
It was also signed by Democratic senators Joan Carter Conway and Verna Jones of Baltimore; Sharon Grosfeld of Montgomery County; and Paul Pinsky and Nathaniel Exum, both of Prince George’s County.
“I had no idea this would generate such a response from the governor’s office,” Benson said. “We have to speak for the people that we represent. . . . The feeling regarding this war does not just rest with 11 people down here.”
Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni defended the administration’s position.
“You don’t debate this issue when you have troops over there,” Massoni said. “When our troops come back there will be plenty of time to debate.”
Ehrlich “respects their opinion,” he said. “But they are wrong.”
The governor singled out this letter because it was printed on General Assembly letterhead, said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver.
“It was sent in an official capacity,” she said. “He felt strongly enough that it warranted a response from the administration.”
Despite the governor’s firm support of Bush, Pinsky said the public, and legislators, have a responsibility to question the war.
“Part of leadership is putting yourself out there,” Pinsky said. “Even if it’s not popular.”