- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 15, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has sent a stern warning throughout the ranks of state government: If you talk to reporters, you’re fired.

“They told us that if we talk to the press, we’re fired. Even if it’s good copy,” said a senior staffer at the Department of Housing and Community Development, who asked not to be identified. “A lot of people are afraid of losing their jobs.”

It’s apparently not an idle threat: A $1 billion budget deficit looms on Maryland’s horizon, and the governor has said layoffs might be necessary. In such an atmosphere, nobody wants a demerit for being press-friendly.

The Ehrlich administration, now in its sixth month, has enjoyed a reputation as a virtually leak-proof operation.

To that end, Mr. Ehrlich, the state’s first Republican governor in more than three decades, has replaced most of the department spokesmen who had worked for Democratic executives.

He has made it clear that any information communicated to the media must go through the new spokesmen — or else. To the chagrin of many a journalist, the tight-lipped policy seems to be working.

• Let’s get together

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore called for fellow Republicans to reunite after several bitter legislative primary races this week and tested themes for his gubernatorial race, still two years away.

About 300 Virginia Republicans paid as little as $75 and as much as $10,000 each at the Republican Party of Virginia’s foremost annual fund-raiser, held Friday night at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Mr. Kilgore called for Republicans to renew their efforts next year to eliminate Virginia’s inheritance tax, a levy on the wealthiest Virginians.

He blamed Gov. Mark Warner and other Democrats for killing an effort to repeal the tax this year.

“It is time to give the death penalty to the death tax in Virginia,” Mr. Kilgore said.

He said that if Mr. Warner and the Democrats believe Virginians should pay more in taxes, they should lead the way by voluntarily paying more themselves.

“I want them to pull out their checkbooks and write a check to the state treasurer to be put in the ‘Virginia Tax-Me-More Fund,’” Mr. Kilgore said. “I want to tell you that that fund exists, but there’s just $400 in that account.”

Mr. Kilgore also mentioned bitterly fought primaries in several legislative districts Tuesday, in which conservative challengers aggressively sought to unseat established incumbent Republicans.

All three Republican state senators survived their nomination battles, while conservative challenger Jeff Frederick easily upset Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison III of Prince William County, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

“Let me say just one thing about the primaries: They are over, and it is time to unite as a Republican Party. It is time to get behind our candidates, and it is time to have great victories in the fall,” Mr. Kilgore said.

All 100 House seats and 40 Senate seats in the General Assembly are up for election Nov. 4.

The scheduled keynote speaker for the night, U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, a former Richmond resident, had to cancel his appearance.

State Republican Party spokesman Shawn Smith blamed a last-minute change in Mr. Snow’s schedule. Mr. Snow was replaced by Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton.

• Making it official

Former Baltimore City Council member Carl Stokes has formally declared his candidacy for mayor.

In his announcement Wednesday, Mr. Stokes criticized the man who defeated him four years ago, saying Mayor Martin O’Malley has not done enough to lower the crime rate in the city.

To highlight the city’s murder rate, Mr. Stokes made his announcement outside the State Medical Examiner’s Office.

A health care executive, Mr. Stokes made a strong showing in the race for the Democratic nomination but lost to Mr. O’Malley. A recent poll of registered Democrats shows Mr. O’Malley’s job approval rating at 69 percent.

Mr. Stokes also criticized Mr. O’Malley, saying the mayor is using the city as a steppingstone for his political ambitions.

Mr. O’Malley has been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.

Mr. Stokes said he will work for all residents of the city, not just the privileged.

Mr. Stokes plans to file for candidacy tomorrow.

• Leader trainer

Former Virginia Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, a Richmond Republican who is Gov. Mark R. Warner’s homeland security adviser, is the new chairman of a Charlottesville-based institute that trains people for political leadership.

Mr. Hager succeeds Charlottesville lawyer Leigh B. Middleditch as chairman of the Thomas C. Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia.

The Sorensen Institute, which has 13 alumni running for state legislative seats in November, is expanding to include ethics training and leadership courses for high school and college students.

“We are going through an evolutionary phase,” Mr. Hager said of the 10-year-old institute, which recently merged with the Virginia Citizenship Institute, a 5-year-old program that teaches public-policy skills to high school and college students in summer programs at the University of Richmond.

Sean T. O’Brien, deputy director at Sorensen, said the institute has many local officials and candidates among its alumni.

“We have 18 alumni running for boards of supervisors, four running for city councils and 12 running for constitutional officers” such as commonwealth’s attorney, sheriff, treasurer or commissioner of the revenue, Mr. O’Brien said.

The nonpartisan institute offers classes in ethics, campaign skills and public policy.

• Parole board

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has appointed a former Republican lawmaker and a Republican Party activist to fill two new positions on the Maryland Parole Commission.

Martha Klima was a member of the House of Delegates from Baltimore County for 20 years but lost a bid for the state Senate in November to Democrat James Brochin.

David Blumberg, supervisor of the Enoch Pratt Library’s facility at the Baltimore City Detention Center, has long been active in Republican politics in Baltimore.

Mr. Blumberg and Miss Klima will begin six-year terms on the commission Oct. 1, when a state law increasing membership on the commission from eight to 10 takes effect.

They will be subject to Senate confirmation when the legislature convenes in January.

The commission has the power to release prison inmates on parole or to return people to prison if they violate the terms of their parole.

• Vote? What vote?

Confusion about electoral boundaries caused problems for some Fredericksburg voters last week.

Polls across Virginia were set to open at 6 a.m. Tuesday for primary elections. But the last redistricting of the 28th Senate District in Fredericksburg was cause for confusion. Residents eligible to vote in Precinct 402 found the polling place at the VFW Hall closed.

Only a portion of the precinct falls in the 28th District.

Voters complained to City Registrar Juanita Pitchford, who opened the polling location at 10:30 a.m. after consulting with the city attorney and the State Board of Elections.

Miss Pitchford said she would personally drop off literature at each home affected by the voting confusion.

• No conflict

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. says there’s no conflict of interest in having Jack Murphy as his deputy zoning administrator — even if Mr. Murphy’s daughter sits on the zoning appeals board.

Mr. Smith told WPOC-FM (Radio 93.1) that the appeals board has several members and that Maureen Murphy would not hear cases that her father would bring to the board.

Mr. Smith said he has referred his nomination of Mr. Murphy to the county ethics board for review to ensure that no impropriety exists.

Mr. Smith’s nomination of Mr. Murphy raised concern among some county council members.

S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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