- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

With Rep. Robert Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's announcements of their running mates, Maryland's 2002 gubernatorial race is officially under way. Mr. Ehrlich, who seeks to be the state's first Republican elected governor since Spiro Agnew was elected in 1966, announced on Monday that state Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele is his choice for lieutenant governor. Mr. Steele is a 43-year-old Prince George's County resident who has worked tirelessly to recruit candidates and rebuild the Republican Party into a serious political force in Maryland. Like Mr. Ehrlich, Mr. Steele, who is black, also comes from a working-class background: His mother spent 45 years working in a D.C. laundry. Mr. Steele's stepfather was employed as a limousine driver, sometimes shuttling Mrs. Townsend's father, the late Robert F. Kennedy, to events.
In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-1, Mrs. Townsend surprised everyone last week with her selection of retired Adm. Charles Larson, a registered Republican and recently retired commander of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, to run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat. For Mrs. Townsend and her fellow Democrats, the selection of Mr. Larson a former submarine commander who became the second-youngest admiral in U.S. history provides a sorely needed diversion from a campaign that's off to a very shaky start.
The Democratic Party establishment was hit with a state Court of Appeals ruling that state legislative districts crafted by Gov. Parris Glendening and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly earlier this year were unconstitutional. The judges decided to draw their own map. The court decision has thrown the state into political chaos, and could well force the retirement of senior Democratic machine politicians like Senate Majority Leader Clarence Blount of Baltimore. Second, newly released budget figures show that the $1 billion surplus Democrats had been touting had metamorphosed into a $900 million deficit.
At a Monday news conference announcing that he would run with Mr. Ehrlich, Mr. Steele made reference to one of Mrs. Townsend's vulnerabilities: her disastrous performance in overseeing the "reform" of Maryland's juvenile-justice system. "I know that Bob Ehrlich will run a state government that will not pay out taxpayer dollars to settle lawsuits to bail out elected officials from their oversight responsibilities, unlike our opponents, who already have, " Mr. Steele said. He was referring to the fact that the state was forced to pay out more than $4 million to 900 juvenile delinquents who were beaten up by sadistic guards at disastrously run boot camps for young offenders.
The Republicans will also be talking about one of Mrs. Townsend's top legislative priorities at this year's legislative session: limiting judges' virtually uncontrolled authority to reduce felons' sentences. The measure was killed by Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, a supporter of Mrs. Townsend's gubernatorial candidacy, who basically told her to get lost. Her conspicuous inability to get her way on this key issue will detract from the image of effective leadership that candidates for governor always seek.


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