- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday said he would deny requests to expand Maryland's use of traffic-enforcement cameras if he were elected governor.

The Baltimore County Republican told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that he would "just say no" to counties and cities seeking permission to set up automatic cameras to photograph, ticket and fine speeders and red-light runners.

Using cameras and vendors instead of police officers to enforce laws relaxes the rules of evidence and raises "serious constitutional issues," said Mr. Ehrlich, a lawyer. He added that it turns law enforcement into a revenue-generating enterprise for jurisdictions.

Mr. Ehrlich, 44, was less clear about whether he will enter the governor's race, although Republican sources say he will soon make an announcement about his candidacy.

"The first real question … to be answered is, 'Can a Republican win the state?'" the four-term congressman said when asked if he will run for governor. "The answer is 'no,' after looking at the '98 election [in which Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening defeated Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey]."

Still, Mr. Ehrlich said his staff is exploring the feasibility of a run for the Governor's Mansion that would most likely pit him against Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the presumptive Democratic front-runner. Mrs. Townsend, the eldest daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, has not yet declared her candidacy, but has amassed a campaign war chest of more than $4 million.

Mr. Ehrlich, who has about $1.5 million for a gubernatorial campaign, yesterday said he has come to believe, through his work with racehorse breeders and trainers in his district, that slot machines offer the "last shot" at saving the flagging horse-racing industry in the state.

He said he would advocate the introduction of slot machines at racetracks, as well as push to have all state revenue from gambling, including from the lottery, be earmarked for education spending.

"The only way you are going to honestly fund the [$1.1 billion in extra funding for education recommended by a state commission] is a new revenue source and I'm not going to raise taxes. We need slots," Mr. Ehrlich said.

He said he does not support bringing casino gambling to Maryland, although he believes "most people gamble responsibly."

Mr. Ehrlich said somebody needs to be held responsible for creating a $2 billion deficit in the budget that has shortchanged the neediest residents of the state, including Medicaid patients and the mentally ill.

"A lot of Democrats realize there's a monumental mess created by the dominance of one wing of the Democratic Party that is very partisan, extremely liberal," he said.

"Parris has never pretended to care about anything other than himself. Pretending 20,000 poor people didn't exist yet when we get in trouble, they've taken money from every discretionary fund. How ironic is that?" Mr. Ehrlich said.

If Mr. Ehrlich were to run for governor, the Republican Party would risk losing his seat and its majority in the House. There are currently 222 Republicans, 211 Democrats and two independents.

Maryland Democrats have redrawn congressional districts to improve their chances of capturing Mr. Ehrlich's district and that of Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican from Montgomery County.

"The Democrats could not draw lines to unelect me," Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday. "What they could do possibly is make me uncomfortable." But he said his newly redrawn district "is not a great one, and we cannot afford a primary for my seat" if he runs for governor.

His predecessor, Helen Delich Bentley, has said she would seek Mr. Ehrlich's seat if he were to seek higher office. Mrs. Sauerbrey also has expressed an interest in running for the Baltimore County seat.

"There cannot be a Bentley-Sauerbrey primary," Mr. Ehrlich said. "We took a poll, and it showed that Bentley is a stronger candidate. She lives in the district and Sauerbrey doesn't."

Yesterday, Republican delegates to the General Assembly stood in front of the governor's residence and released a letter signed by all 35 Republican House members urging Mr. Ehrlich to run and offer Maryland a "strong leader" to correct the "irresponsible decisions" and budget priorities of Mr. Glendening.

Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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