- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Speaking on the front stoop of his family's home in the blue-collar Baltimore suburb of Arbutus, Rep. Robert Ehrlich formally announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland on Monday. In most states, a thoughtful conservative Republican like Mr. Ehrlich would have a strong shot of winning the governorship, especially when running against a liberal like Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democrats' likely nominee.

But Maryland is not like most states that have serious two-party competition. Democrats, who hold commanding majorities in both chambers in the General Assembly, face little serious competition from the Republicans today. Maryland has not elected a Republican governor since Spiro Agnew won in 1966. Mr. Ehrlich, who is putting his political career on the line by giving up a fairly safe congressional seat, believes he can change this and make Maryland a two-party state by upsetting Mrs. Townsend. He points out that he has decisively won re-election in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-1.

There is certainly a great deal to like about Mr. Ehrlich. Having served eight years in the Maryland House before his election to Congress in 1994, Mr. Ehrlich is a refreshingly candid politician who tells you what he believes. In sharp contrast to Mrs. Townsend, he understands the importance of limiting government growth and is opposed to increasing taxes. On crime, he has sought to push federal prosecutors in Maryland to implement their own version of Project Exile, an enormously successful program that mandates jail time for criminals caught with guns. Mr. Ehrlich is against the noxious practice of revenue-raising red-light cameras and supports charter schools.

On some issues, however, the combination of Mr. Ehrlich's self-described libertarian philosophy and Maryland political realities (in particular, the fact that, if Mr. Ehrlich wins, he will find himself up against a hostile state legislature controlled by left-leaning Democrats) make his views decidedly unattractive to many moderate-to-conservative Marylanders. For example, Mr. Ehrlich indicated he won't push for tuition tax credits for private schools. He wants to legalize slots at race tracks in order to pour an additional $1 billion into public schools over five years. He also is generally pro-choice.

In the end, Mr. Ehrlich's greatest political asset in the upcoming campaign could turn out to be the mindless knee-jerk liberalism of Mrs. Townsend. In an effort to demonstrate her independence from outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening, Mrs. Townsend said Monday that she might support a death-penalty moratorium. One of the first beneficiaries of such a policy would be John Booth, who in 1983 murdered an elderly Baltimore couple while robbing their home. As it happened, on Monday, an appeals court in Richmond reinstated Booth's death sentence, rejecting the claim that his ingestion of alcohol and heroin reduced his ability to understand he was committing a crime. Mr. Ehrlich would do well to ask Mrs. Townsend why such a killer deserves to escape the ultimate penalty.


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