- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday hailed running mate Kristen Cox’s intelligence and determination in lobbying for people with disabilities.

Mrs. Cox, who was blinded by a childhood illness, has become the face of the governor’s re-election campaign theme of empowering people.

“She is all about empowerment,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said at a morning press conference at the City Dock. “I first met her on Capitol Hill when she would knock on my door repeatedly to lobby me on issues related to the blind. I came to admire her intellect. Her intellect is stunning, but it’s nothing compared to her drive and energy.”

Mrs. Cox, 36, has served as secretary of the state’s Department of Disabilities since 2004, when Mr. Ehrlich created the Cabinet-level position. Administration officials call the position the first of its kind in the country.

“We share the philosophical approach of empowering people, of providing them with meaningful, substantial opportunities to make their lives better,” said Mrs. Cox, who arrived at the event using a walking cane, then felt with her hand for the microphone when she stepped to the lectern.

“Let’s be honest,” said Mrs. Cox, who was flanked by her husband, Randy, and sons Riley, 1, and Tanner, 10, whom she reassuringly patted on the shoulder several times. “Most politicians don’t step up and make disability a key part of their platform. It’s not exciting. This is a population that is overlooked, neglected, often doesn’t have a lot of money. Yet this governor said: ‘You know what, these are people that can contribute, that can give back to the work force, that can be productive, if we give them some support.’”

Mrs. Cox, a Mormon who lives in Towson, left a job with the Department of Education in 2003 to work in the governor’s disabilities office. From 1998 to 2001, she was a lobbyist on Capitol Hill for the National Federation of the Blind.

It was on Capitol Hill where she met Mr. Ehrlich, then a congressman from Baltimore County, who in 2002 became Maryland’s first elected Republican governor since 1966.

Political observers have said Mrs. Cox will be an asset to the Ehrlich campaign because she symbolizes its message of inclusion and empowerment.

However, she has never run for office and has little political experience.

“It demonstrates that the governor doesn’t put politics first,” said Audra Miller of the state Republican Party.

But Delegate Neil Quinter, Howard County Democrat, questioned whether Mrs. Cox is “prepared to be governor of Maryland, should something unfortunate happen.”

Mr. Quinter is an active supporter of Mr. Ehrlich’s Democratic opponent, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley.

“That’s not a matter of her disability,” he said. “It’s a matter of her lack of political [experience] and of her low-level managerial experience.”

Mr. Ehrlich made history with his lieutenant governor choice in 2002 when he picked Michael S. Steele, the former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.

Mr. Steele became the first black person elected to statewide office in Maryland and is now running for the U.S. Senate.

The gubernatorial race now appears to be a head-to-head contest between Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. O’Malley.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan dropped out of the Democratic primary race last week, citing a diagnosis of clinical depression.

Mr. O’Malley months ago declared his running mate, Delegate Anthony G. Brown, a Prince George’s County Democrat who is black.

“I’m proud of my running mate,” Mr. O’Malley told The Washington Times yesterday, after meeting with four residents of Edmonston for an hour in their back yard. “I guess Governor Ehrlich will have to explain the attributes of his.”

Mr. O’Malley is ahead in the polls but will be pressed to keep pace with Mr. Ehrlich’s fundraising totals, which are expected to reach about $20 million.

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