Jan. 13, 2005

Behind the scenes:

Fun on the show today: We had the rare distinction of having House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on the same broadcast, along with one of my very favorite elected officials, Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich.

The speaker joined us from Chicago, which has gotten socked this week with snow and nasty weather, while the majority leader called in from Brussels, Belgium.

The interview with the senator illustrated the joys and perils of broadcasting. When you work in a medium that depends on the orderly movement of electrons, you flirt constantly with disaster — so naturally, Sen. Frist’s cell phone fritzed out midway through the interview. We re-established contact during a quick commercial break, and he gave us a quick breakdown of a rapid tour that included tsunami-whipped portions of India, the streets of Baghdad, and the fledgling democracies of Afghanistan and Brussels. Interestingly, he was most inspired by what he saw in Afghanistan — packed streets, people excited about being liberated from the Taliban, an economy scrambling to life and a backward healthcare system tiptoeing toward the modern era.

Hastert, meanwhile, showed again that he’s a force to reckon with. The soft-spoken speaker has become the most formidable and underrated politician in Washington, other than the president. He knows how to crack heads without making mortal enemies and has become the most effective speaker in a very long time.

Republicans are entering their 11th consecutive year of running the House, and Hastert foresees a very busy year. He expressed some hope for bipartisanship, but when I asked whether he could name a single issue on which Democrats had expressed a willingness to cooperate, he laughed. I love it when that happens.

Then there’s Ehrlich. You’re going to hear more of this guy in years to come. He’s a rising star because he combines four traits we don’t often enough see simultaneously present in elected officials — passion, ideological consistency, candor, and a good sense of humor. Ehrlich is the Republican governor of an overwhelmingly Democratic state, and gleefully has taken on the auld establishment.

For instance, he hauled his legislature back into action right after Christmas, demanding that it place limits on jury awards against doctors. Malpractice insurance has become the greatest threat to public health in Maryland. Ehrlich is a lawyer by profession, so he doesn’t have anything against successful attorneys. Nor does he dispute people’s rights to sue negligent physicians. But he also knows that a good advocate can wring tears from a jury with tales of heartbreaking hardship and woe, and persuade jurors to impose gigantic awards even when doctors have done no wrong.

That sort of 'kindness' is throwing doctors out of business, ironically making life even tougher for the vulnerable. Ehrlich knows this, and so does his opposition. He figured he was in for a fight when big-time lawyers in five-thousand dollar suits showed up to watch the special legislative session. The lobbyists intimidated the legislature into a reform that actually socked the poor with new taxes. Ehrlich vetoed it. Fun.

I have only two beefs with the guy.

He is younger than I am, which is why I refer to him as the 'Boy Governor,' and he ate about 100 rolls of my Smarties.

Share your thoughts with Tony. E-mail him at tonysnow@foxnews.com.