- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 13, 2004

Over the past two years, the Maryland Democratic Party has managed to do what once seemed impossible: make the state Republican Party competitive for the first time in decades. Much of the credit goes to KKT — Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose poorly run gubernatorial campaign in 2002 made it possible for Robert Ehrlich to become the state’s first Republican elected governor in 36 years. But the Democrats remain very much in control of the General Assembly, outnumbering Republicans 98-43 in the House of Delegates and 33-14 in the state Senate. Although the political environment has become somewhat more conservative in recent years, making Mr. Ehrlich’s election possible, Democratic lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction.

In 2002, Republican candidates defeated relatively moderate Democrats like House of Delegates Speaker Casper Taylor and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Walter Baker. Democratic legislators chose two orthodox liberals to replace them: Anne Arundel County Delegate Michael Busch became speaker of the House; and Montgomery County Sen. Brian Frosh became chairman of the Judicial Proceedings panel. During this year’s session of the General Assembly, Democrats seem determined to give Republicans the opportunity to define them as the party that favors higher taxes, and seeks to take guns away from law-abiding citizens while granting undeserved privileges to illegal immigrants.

Although Senate President Mike Miller has indicated some reluctance to press for any major increase in taxes for now, public debate over the issue has been dominated by liberal ideologues in the House. Mr. Busch and other lawmakers, such as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sheila Hixson of Montgomery County, have worked tirelessly (and thus far unsuccessfully) to force Mr. Ehrlich to agree to increase sales, income and gasoline taxes. Also, liberal back benchers, including Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez of Montgomery County and Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County, are pushing to increase the top income tax rate for “rich” people. Miss Gutierrez, for example, wants to increase the top rate from 4.75 percent to 5.75 percent for people with taxable income over $210,000. Given that it can easily cost $500,000 or more to buy a habitable single-family home in many parts of the county, this is a proposal likely to give even some doctrinaire Bethesda liberals pause.

And there are other areas where General Assembly liberals seem determined to make life difficult for non-ideologues in the Democratic Party. There’s gun control, where the liberals want to push through a bill to ban 45 assault weapons despite the high likelihood of a veto by Mr. Ehrlich. There’s the issue of lower in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, where Democrats will likely attempt to override Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of a bill passed by the General Assembly last year. A similar issue is driver’s licenses for illegals, where House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario, has worked to kill Republican efforts to put the legislature on record against the idea. And Mr. Vallario has, for now, managed to block the governor’s proposal to make witness intimidation a felony offense. The governor’s bill is supported by state’s attorneys in such Democratic bastions as Baltimore and Prince George’s County. When it comes to making Maryland a two-party state, Messrs. Vallario and Busch may pick up where Mrs. Townsend left off.

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