- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. yesterday defended a recent string of legal opinions refuted by the courts that have cast a shadow over his exit from state Democratic politics after 47 years.

“If we thought we were wrong, we would have never, never, never approved it,” Mr. Curran, 75, told The Washington Times. “If we see the legislature is going down the wrong road, we say so. We stop them or help them change.”

However, Mr. Curran’s legal advice supported the Democrat-controlled legislature’s moves to force Wal-Mart to pay for employee health benefits, to fire the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) and to institute early voting — laws overturned by the courts for violating federal law, state law and the state constitution, respectively.

The attorney general dismissed critics who say the rash of bad advice reflects politicization or anti-Republican bias in the office, which in each case sided with the General Assembly against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state’s first Republican governor in 36 years.

“Early voting is a good idea. Getting more people to pay the health benefits for Marylanders is a good idea. Getting professional persons on the PSC is a good idea,” he said. “These are all good ideas.”

In a wide-ranging interview at his Baltimore office, Mr. Curran said he welcomed Democrats’ return to almost complete control of state government in the election last month.

“If everybody is on the same team, they can march in lock step toward the kind of government that the people want,” he said, adding that he did not see any “pitfalls” to one-party rule.

“If everybody works for the same purpose, you are better off than this tug and pull,” said Mr. Curran, who retires next month from a political career that spanned 20 years in the state Senate, a stint as lieutenant governor under Gov. Harry R. Hughes, a Democrat, and 20 years as attorney general.

Mr. Curran’s affinity for one-party rule did not extend to Republican control of Congress and the White House.

“I don’t like this thing that was going on in Washington,” Mr. Curran said. “Even that is going to change to some extent. Of course, the president is still George Bush, but at least there will be some checks and balances on him, too.”

The attorney general’s advice on Wal-Mart, the PSC and early voting also ran contrary to the positions of Mr. Ehrlich, who vetoed each measure but saw the legislature’s Democratic supermajority override his decisions.

Mr. Ehrlich lost his re-election bid last month to Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat who is married to state Associate Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, Mr. Curran’s daughter.

“I think it is going to be a happy new year,” Mr. Curran said of his son-in-law’s victory. “It is going to be a good four years or more in Annapolis.”

Mr. Curran will be succeeded by Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat.

He said he wouldn’t again run for elected office, but plans to remain active. He is considering a part-time teaching position at a Baltimore university and said he might work for state or national groups to promote stricter gun-control laws, an issue he long championed.

“I’m not suggesting that we have to have a total ban of all guns in America,” Mr. Curran said. “First of all, that’s never going to happen. … But I would like to see to it that there begins to be a restriction on who can get these guns.”

Mr. Curran has ridden at the forefront of liberal politics throughout his career, even when his positions ran counter to his devout Catholic faith.

He attends Mass daily, but he said his private religious views do not color his politics.

For example, he is pro-choice although he personally opposes abortion. “I know how I personally feel, but I don’t know that my personal opinion should be the opinion of someone else,” he said. “I’ll let that individual make their own decision.”

Still, Mr. Curran blanches at calling a same-sex union a “marriage.”

“Maybe that’s my ultraliberal self being slightly conservative,” he said, adding that he is not opposed to homosexual couples having all the legal benefits and protections of marriage.

Evidence of Mr. Curran’s past political stands are contained in framed photographs and mementos that line the walls of his reception room and office, keepsakes for which he said he has yet to find storage.

A campaign flier by an opponent of Mr. Curran’s failed 1968 run for Congress as an anti-Vietnam War candidate is testament to his legacy.

It says that Mr. Curran’s conservative opponent “exposes” him as a supporting interracial marriage and opposing housing discrimination and loyalty oaths that were intended to root out communists and subversives in government.

“That was an interesting time,” Mr. Curran said.

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