- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

James Pelura III, the new Maryland Republican Party chairman, says voters who last month gave Democrats control of state government will be surprised by how far left party leaders have gone.

“A lot of Democrats will see the direction their leaders are going and that the Republican message is more beneficial to the social, economic and environmental well-being of Maryland,” Mr. Pelura told The Washington Times.

“When people … see they are paying more taxes, that’s going to trickle down to the average citizen who doesn’t usually pay that much attention to politics,” he said. “The liberal Democratic agenda is not in the interest of most Marylanders.”

Mr. Pelura, 58, a Davidsonville veterinarian, took on the chairman job just weeks after his party’s widespread losses in the midterm elections, including the defeat of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state’s first Republican governor in 36 years.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the state party’s most competitive U.S. Senate candidate in a generation, lost to Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore. Republicans also lost seats to the already Democratic majority in the state legislature.

Party officials largely blamed the country’s anti-Republican mood. But some say the party establishment, including Mr. Pelura, contributed to the losses by neglecting grass-roots party building.

Mr. Pelura, Anne Arundel County chairman for Mr. Ehrlich’s 2006 campaign, said he has taken the criticism to heart.

Mr. Ehrlich has been even more candid, saying Republicans are out of step with most Marylanders.

“The trend lines at present in our state are not very good for someone with my views and values,” he said last week.

Mr. Ehrlich also has said only widespread dissatisfaction with Democratic leaders would return a Republican to statewide office.

Mr. Pelura is confident such a condition will occur.

He said the Democrats who won in the election — especially party leaders — will prove to be more liberal than most voters in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1.

Mr. Pelura pointed to Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley, Baltimore mayor, and Comptroller-elect Peter V.R. Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat and among the more liberal state delegates.

“You can’t get any further left than these folks,” he said. “That’s different than the rank-and-file Democrats who are more conservative and Democrats in registration only.”

Democratic leaders already are talking about increasing cigarette, gasoline and sales taxes.

Mr. O’Malley said he will not introduce new taxes in the upcoming General Assembly but promised to “keep an open mind” to lawmakers’ tax proposals.

“They are going to [raise taxes] and that is going to help us,” Mr. Pelura said. “That will drive the point home that Republicans have the right values and right priorities.”

Mr. Pelura, who served as state chairman for President Bush’s 2004 campaign, said the Democrat-controlled state government also will provide voters with a stark contrast to the Ehrlich administration, which turned around an inherited $4 billion deficit without increasing sales or income taxes.

“It’s going to make our message look that much better,” he said.

Mr. Pelura will for now focus on the 107 local elections next year and Republican candidates for councilman, alderman and mayor.

“If you want to see your party advance and become a dominant party, you start there,” he said. “That’s where you get your statewide party.”

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