- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

It seems like a match made somewhere south of heaven — a conservative think tank in left-leaning Maryland.

But Eli Gold, founder and chairman of the Harbour League, says his group fills a void by promoting discourse on free-market issues and conservative views.

“You have Martin O’Malley as governor. It doesn’t get any more liberal than that,” said Mr. Gold, 31. “You need a conservative voice out there, and this is the way to do it.”

The league, which hosts a lecture series on topics including tax policy and education reform, will mark its first anniversary with a Jan. 10 dinner program at the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, will be the featured speaker.

“We want to promote conservative thought, not just think about conservative thoughts,” said Mr. Eli, a Pikesville insurance broker who started the nonpartisan, nonprofit institution with Baltimore County lawyer Thomas P. Bernier. “We want to promote action among people who already think that way.”

Mr. Gold hopes the group someday will rival the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank in New York City that helped popularize market-oriented policies during the past quarter-century.

Liberal ideology has long dominated politics in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1.

The country’s anti-Republican mood in last month’s election helped give the Maryland Democratic Party almost complete control of state government.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state’s first Republican governor in 36 years, lost re-election to Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat. And Delegate Peter Franchot, Montgomery County Democrat and one of the legislature’s most liberal lawmakers, won the race for comptroller.

Democrats won every other statewide office and expanded their majority in the General Assembly.

Mr. Ehrlich even lamented in a recent radio interview that his views were out of step with most Marylanders. “We got fired,” he said.

Still, conservative ideas — if nurtured — can take root in Maryland, said Harbour League board member Jeff Ferguson, an Annapolis business management consultant.

“When people understand the conservative viewpoint, when they are exposed to it, I think they come to see that it makes sense,” he said. “We need more debate.”

Maryland is already home to several conservative think tanks, including the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, a Baltimore-based group dedicated to public policy based on free markets and personal responsibility.

Sean Dobson, deputy director of the liberal research and activist group Progressive Maryland, welcomes the Harbour League.

“Progressive Maryland looks forward to the Harbour League adding its voice to other conservative voices … to enrich the policy debate in our state,” he said.

The league has more than 100 members who regularly attend events, and the ranks are growing, said board members.

In its first year, Harbour League presented five speakers, including National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, economist Paul Hollander, syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin and Tony Blankley, editorial-page editor for The Washington Times.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a Harbour League board member, also has addressed the group.

Mr. Norquist told The Times recently that the league is making great strides for such a young organization.

“If [Maryland] can be saved, Harbour League will be part of it,” he said.

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