- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

Robert Ehrlich and Michael Steele's historic election victory Tuesday night is the most visible sign of the political sea-change that has begun in Maryland. Largely as a result of the redistricting-induced changes that took place earlier in the year, some of the most prominent Democrats in the General Assembly are leaving. So, when Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele are sworn in on Jan. 15, they will be working with a largely new Democratic leadership.

Mr. Ehrlich will inherit a series of problems created largely by the administration of outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend a fiscal crisis, a criminal justice system in disrepair and an education system mired in mediocrity. Following are some of the major issues that the Ehrlich administration (perhaps with the cooperation of the General Assembly's Democratic leadership) will need to begin to address right away.

• The budget. The state deficit has mushroomed to $1.7 billion through the next fiscal year. A large part of the problem results from the fact that, for the past eight years, the Glendening-Townsend administration, with the acquiescence of the General Assembly, has gone on a spending spree on everything from higher education to saving the Chesapeake Bay. Since Mr. Ehrlich has expressed opposition to raising taxes, he must be prepared to take on the special interests in the legislature who resist any serious effort to rein in spending. And, given the reality that slots, favored by Mr. Ehrlich, will come nowhere near closing the budget gap, tough spending cuts will be absolutely essential.

• Crime. Mr. Ehrlich has promised to end the death-penalty moratorium and to evaluate the cases of each of the 13 men on death row on a case-by-case basis. He will also need to ensure that there is no repetition of the outgoing administration's disgraceful failure to cooperate with FBI background checks of gun owners as required under the Brady Act.

• Education. Few states have been more resistant to school choice than Maryland. Mr. Ehrlich, a supporter of vouchers and charter schools, will encounter a state Democratic legislative leadership that has long been resistant to any alternative to the status quo. For too long, the legislature has been paralyzed by bickering between Baltimore on the one hand and jurisdictions like Prince George's and Montgomery counties on the other hand over the allocation of state money for public school systems that aren't getting the job done. Mr. Ehrlich must make it clear to legislative leaders that the current approach does a disservice to children and cannot continue.

Maryland's new Republican administration will face some major challenges in the coming months as it begins to attempt to reform a state ossified by decades of one-party rule. If the new Democratic leadership in the General Assembly avoids reflexive obstructionism, there is a good chance for a rebirth of conservative, but progressive, governance in Maryland.

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