- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

In Maryland congressional races this year, the stakes could hardly get any higher. With Democrats needing to pick up just six seats to win back the House of Representatives and replace Dennis Hastert as speaker with Richard Gephardt, Maryland's new 8th Congressional District, represented since 1987 by Republican Rep. Connie Morella, has become a key battleground in the fight for control of the House when the new Congress gets sworn in next January.

Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly enacted and Gov. Parris Glendening signed into law new congressional district boundaries aimed at ending Mrs. Morella's career. The legislature removed Mrs. Morella's Republican-leaning areas from northern Montgomery County and added Democratic-leaning areas from northern Prince George's County. As a result, local and national Democrats view Mrs. Morella as one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country. Even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by nearly 2-1 and control every statewide office, the state Democratic Party machine is unhappy with the fact that Maryland's eight-member delegation in the House of Representatives is evenly split. Hence, the desire to redistrict Mrs. Morella out of office. "You've got to look at this as the game plan for the next five elections," Maryland House Speaker Casper Taylor said earlier this year.

Mrs. Morella has distinguished herself time and time again on one of the issues most important to the Republican Party's moderate-to-conservative mainstream: tax reduction. To cite but the most recent example, Mrs. Morella last year joined her House Republican colleagues in beating back amendment after amendment pushed by Mr. Gephardt and other House Democrats seeking to unravel President Bush's tax-cut package one of the most critical issues on his domestic agenda. Thanks largely to Mrs. Morella and her Republican colleagues, Mr. Bush signed legislation in June providing $1.35 trillion in tax relief over the next 10 years. The package includes relief from the marriage penalty, a doubling of the child tax credit, an increase in the estate-tax exemption in 2002 and its eventual repeal in 2010, increases in the annual contribution limits on IRA contributions, and much more. As chairman of the House Government Reform panel on the District, Mrs. Morella has helped maintain home rule for the nation's capital.

Four Democrats are vying to oppose Mrs. Morella. Two of them are extreme longshots: former Clinton trade negotiator Ira Shapiro; and Deborah Vollmer, a lawyer. When voters go to the polls on Sept. 10, they are likely to choose either state Delegate Mark Shriver or state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. Messrs. Shriver and Van Hollen seem to be competing with each other to see who is the more reliable liberal purist. The pair have been furiously debating who is the bigger basher of the National Rifle Association and the stronger advocate of gun-control schemes that will make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns. Mr. Van Hollen hopes that his support for higher state tobacco taxes will attract liberal activists who typically dominate Democratic primaries in the Washington area.

Both he and Mr. Shriver are in broad agreement on a wide variety of issues: Mr. Bush and congressional Republicans are irresponsible to push for tax cuts; more domestic spending is needed on social programs like health care and education; and abortion-on-demand must be protected at all costs. Both have acted as though they'd rather be somewhere else when asked whether the United States needs to take military action to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

In sum, Mrs. Morella's quiet, judicious brand of moderate Republicanism is far preferable to the sort of shrill, feel-good liberalism advocated by Messrs. Shriver, Van Hollen and the rest of the candidates for the Democratic nomination. But something much more important is at stake here: If Mrs. Morella is defeated in November and the Democrats gain a net total of five additional seats, the House will undergo a sea-change. This includes ardent liberals like Rep. John Conyers becoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Charles Rangel chairing Ways and Means, and Barney Frank moving a step closer to the chairmanship of the Financial Services Committee. For all of the above reasons and more, The Washington Times endorses Rep. Connie Morella in the Republican primary.

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