- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The four main candidates for Maryland attorney general all boast experience as prosecutors and vow to get tough on crime but suffer limited name recognition outside their home jurisdictions.

They also face stiff fundraising competition because of hot races for U.S. Senate, governor and comptroller.

What’s more, one Democratic contender — Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez — must survive a court challenge that he does not have the requisite 10 years of experience as a Maryland lawyer to be attorney general.

Mr. Perez, 44, is competing against Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and former Baltimore State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms for the Democratic nomination, which will be determined in the Sept. 12 primary.

Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott L. Rolle is the lone Republican seeking to succeed Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a Democrat who is retiring after 19 years as the state’s top law-enforcement official.

“I think the stars have to line up whenever you win an office like this, and I would suggest that Joe Curran retiring is one of the stars lining up,” said Mr. Rolle, 44.

The candidates take similar law-and-order stances, though Mr. Perez has aligned himself with the state Democratic Party’s most liberal positions and staunchest opponents to the policies of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election.

For instance, Mr. Perez pledges he will fight to reverse a U.S. District Court ruling last week invalidating a law that forced Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to pay a minimum amount of employee health benefits.

The ruling is viewed as a setback for the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that passed the law over Mr. Ehrlich’s veto this year.

In addition, Mr. Perez faces a court challenge of his qualifications by Montgomery County Board of Education member Stephen Abrams, a Republican running for comptroller.

“This is a desperate attempt by a desperate person to get himself a few headlines for his own campaign,” said Mr. Perez, who has worked as a federal prosecutor for many years and joined the state bar five years ago.

The case will be heard in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court as early as next week. Mr. Curran has issued an advisory opinion agreeing with Mr. Perez.

All four candidates say they will continue Mr. Curran’s policy of making consumer protection a top priority.

But Mr. Simms, 56, more than any of his rivals, has made following the “Curran model” a campaign cornerstone.

A latecomer to the attorney general race, Mr. Simms was Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan’s gubernatorial running mate before Mr. Duncan dropped out of the contest last month.

If elected, Mr. Simms would be the first black person to hold the office in Maryland.

“We are running very hard and very fast,” said Mr. Simms, who served as secretary of juvenile justice and secretary of public safety and correctional services under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. “The reaction so far has been a positive one.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Gansler, 43, and Mr. Rolle stress the importance of combating gangs, gun violence and sex crimes against children.

“Kids, gangs and gun violence are it in a nutshell for me,” said Mr. Rolle, who has been a state’s attorney for 12 years and serves as a captain in the Army Reserve.

Mr. Gansler, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is serving his second term as state’s attorney, also cites the importance of fighting Internet crimes such as child pornography and identity theft.

“I’ve taken on today’s criminals and today’s crimes,” he said. “I’ve been on the front lines [of law enforcement] for 14 years, and I get the job done.”

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