- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Politics is not rocket science, says Kristen Cox, Maryland’s secretary of disabilities and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s running mate in his re-election bid.

“It’s having really good ideas and articulating them,” said Mrs. Cox, 36, a Republican and mother of two. “I don’t think there’s a mysterious science about it. I just think it’s a real commitment, being passionate about what you believe in.”

Mrs. Cox, who is blind, has never run for political office, which has critics questioning whether she would be capable of running the state if she were to replace the governor.

Her lack of political experience, she said, is an issue only “for those that put up politics as a mysterious rocket-science-type filth.”

“I’ve been an advocate at the state level,” Mrs. Cox said. “I’ve been an advocate on Capitol Hill for many years. I was a presidential appointee. Now being in public policy at state perspective, I think [I have] a very diverse and well-rounded background.”

Mrs. Cox, the daughter of a single mother, began losing her sight at 11 when she developed Stargardt disease, an inherited and aggressive form of macular degeneration. As a Brigham Young University student, she memorized everything for exams.

While at the Mormon school in Utah, Mrs. Cox took an 18-month break for a missionary trip to Brazil before graduating in 1995 and giving birth to her first son. Today, she continues to practice her Mormon faith.

Mrs. Cox was a stay-at-home mother until 1997, when she was elected president of Utah’s chapter of the National Federation of the Blind. The organization hired her as a lobbyist a year later, so she came to Capitol Hill, where she met Mr. Ehrlich, then a congressman from Maryland.

In 2001, President Bush appointed her assistant to the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the Department of Education, where she worked on improving opportunities for disabled students. In 2003, Mr. Ehrlich tapped her to lead the state’s disabilities office.

In 2004, Mr. Ehrlich elevated Mrs. Cox’s position to Cabinet level, the first of its kind in the country.

Last year, Mrs. Cox had her second son. Her husband, Randy, works for the T. Rowe Price investment brokerage.

If Mr. Ehrlich is re-elected next month, Mrs. Cox plans to focus on health care, human services, education, reforming long-term care, and providing more access and opportunity to such services for disabled persons and at-risk children.

“I fundamentally believe that when you give people the right training, the right support, the right opportunities, that they can live very productive and meaningful lives,” Mrs. Cox said in her June 29 announcement speech.

Mrs. Cox said the campaign platform of Democratic challenger Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and running mate Delegate Anthony G. Brown, Prince George’s Democrat, has so far amounted to just “good rhetoric.”

“Some of their ideas are intriguing, but I don’t think they’re flushed out enough,” she said.

Mrs. Cox has been especially critical of Mr. Brown’s proposal to fund re-insurance pools with money from the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, which she said now has a $100 million surplus. The pools are shifting some insurance company expenses for high-cost customers to another carrier or the state to reduce employee premiums.

Mrs. Cox said the fund has been relatively unknown and is just beginning to fill up with registrants. “People who oversee that program say in two to three months we’re going to start going negative … and in four to five years those funds are not going to be available,” she said.

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