- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Republicans looked back on a string of defeats as the 90-day General Assembly reached its midpoint Friday.

But Republican leaders chose to view the setbacks — including defeat of a ban on homosexual “marriage” and anticipated defeat for restrictions on property seizures by the government — as costly victories for Democrats.

They say the move to the left by Democrats, who control both legislative chambers by overwhelming majorities, will reap election losses in November.

“The Democratic Party has moved out of the mainstream of Maryland voters,” said Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican. “Mainstream Marylanders don’t believe in their anti-business, anti-property rights, gay ‘marriage,’ big-government agenda.”

Mr. Stoltzfus said the state is not as liberal as commonly thought, noting that conservative Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey lost the 1994 governor’s race by fewer than 6,000 votes.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Maryland’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years, won in 2002 by about 66,000 votes, according to the state elections board.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican and minority whip, said his party doesn’t need legislative victories to score politically.

“Our top priority is getting these issues before Maryland citizens,” he said. “It crystallizes the difference between liberal Democrats who control this legislature and the Ehrlich-style leadership — the pro-business, pro-Maryland leadership [of the Republican Party].”

Democratic leaders said conservative lawmakers were exaggerating the popularity of their agenda and that pervasive dissatisfaction with President Bush would hurt Republicans at the polls.

“They’ll be worried about who is running the ports in November,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Republicans have seen much of their agenda killed this year by the General Assembly’s overwhelming Democratic majority.

Democrats overrode 17 vetoes by Mr. Ehrlich, including vetoes of legislation forcing Wal-Mart to pay a minimum amount of employee health benefits and another measure increasing the minimum wage by $1.

Democrats prevented a vote on the Republican proposal to put a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex “marriage” on the November ballot.

A similar fate is expected for the Republicans’ top priority — a referendum on a constitutional amendment restricting government “eminent domain” powers to seize private property for redevelopment projects.

“If the Democrats in the legislature want to thwart [such legislation], then they are going to have to face the citizens,” said Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican and House minority whip.

Lawmakers nationwide have been scrambling to curb the power of eminent domain since the June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London, Conn., which expanded government power to seize private property for redevelopment to generate more tax revenue.

In addition, polls show that most Marylanders would support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage only as the union between one man and one woman.

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