- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The major-party nominees for U.S. Senate from Maryland are a study in contrasts: Rep. Ben Cardin, a veteran of 10 terms in the U.S. House and nearly 40 years in Maryland politics, from a wealthy, powerful Baltimore family. He is very much a quiet, cerebral liberal in the mold of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who held the seat for 30 years. By contrast, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who we enthusiastically endorse for the Senate today, is anything but a conventional politician. As Mr. Steele himself told editors and reporters the other day, “I don’t look at this race through conventional glasses.”

Indeed, Mr. Steele’s openness to new ideas offers a refreshing contrast from the sort of orthodox liberalism represented by Mr. Cardin. And Mr. Steele, the first black candidate elected statewide in Maryland in modern times, offers a compelling personal success story that is in many ways the embodiment of the American Dream.

His mother is a sharecropper’s daughter who worked in South Carolina tobacco fields before coming to Washington and working at minimum-wage jobs for nearly half a century. His stepfather was a limousine driver. Mr. Steele, a Roman Catholic born in Prince George’s County and reared in Washington, prepared for the priesthood but ultimately chose a career in law. He’s even worked with such well-known Washington politicians as Democrats Joe Yeldell and John Ray (a Democrat we once endorsed for mayor).

Cutting your conservative teeth in a blue city and then moving to a blue state and rising to prominence is no small task. Seeing where Mr. Steele stands on key issues explains why he draws support from Republicans and Democrats. In fact, such a briefing proves why his opponent’s campaign ads mistakenly try to pass Mr. Steele off as a Republican ideologue, which he isn’t, who sees everything through Bush-colored lenses, which he doesn’t.

Mr. Steele is staunchly pro-life (parting with many Republicans who support abortion in cases of rape and incest), and he is a free trader. He supports welfare reform and wants to come to Washington to push for policies so low-income Americans can get a pathway to wealth, primarily through homeownership. And while he stands for law and order, his compassionate conservatism calls for rehabilitating some drug offenders and he doesn’t stand firmly on the death penalty, either. Mr. Steele also supports tax cuts and welfare reform.

One of the issues Mr. Steele talks breathlessly and compassionately about is education. He has reservations about President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, and can sound as frustrated as any schoolteacher who feels his hands are tied by the bureaucracy.

Involved in Maryland politics since the late 1980s, Mr. Steele became a political David battling big-government Goliaths. For example, as chairman of the Prince George’s County Republican Party (Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county by nearly 5-1), he successfully mobilized opposition to a 1996 initiative pushed by county Democrats that would have raised property taxes. The result was a crushing defeat for then-County Executive Wayne Curry, whose effort to lift the cap was defeated by a landslide.

After the 2000 election, Mr. Steele became chairman of the state Republican Party, where he put together a 10-year plan to expand the party and elect more Republicans. His plan helped the state GOP score a major success four years ago, when voters elected Robert Ehrlich as governor and Mr. Steele as lieutenant governor. (No doubt Mr. Steele’s statewide success encouraged Kweisi Mfume to run statewide, too.)

As lieutenant governor, Mr. Steele’s responsibilities included chairing commissions responsible for enhancing opportunities for minority-owned businesses and improving education in the state. The education panel’s recommendations, released last year, include plans for strengthening the state’s charter school law and encouraging greater parental responsibility in education — two things which Mr. Steele believes deeply in and will fight for in the Senate. Judging from Mr. Cardin’s record, we fully expect that if elected the Baltimore Democrat would join Sens. Ted Kennedy and Barbara Mikulski in trying to water down any efforts to expand educational choice.

Obviously, the Cardin camp has Michael Steele on its mind: While still airing the Steele-is-a-Bush-man ads, Mr. Cardin is cynically attempting to exploit patients of Parkinson’s disease by airing television commercials featuring actor Michael J. Fox, his body clearly ravaged by the disease. The ad urges a vote for Mr. Cardin because he supports open-ended public funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Mr. Steele supports adult stem-cell research. The commercial is a cheap shot on Mr. Cardin’s part because it omits the inconvenient fact that it is hardly clear from the medical evidence that embryonic stem-cell research offers a cure.

Mr. Steele is a nontraditional candidate who has brought a different style of campaigning to an old-school blue state, and there are no gray areas when he stands on issues. The Washington Times is pleased to endorse Michael Steele for the U.S. Senate.


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