In an interview with The Washington Times on Friday, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich denied that the administration has decided not to ask the General Assembly to approve a state version of a Project Exile — a program, modeled after a highly successful anti-crime initiative begun in Richmond,Va., which would impose stricter sentences on criminals using guns in the commission of a crime. Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich, said the governor may propose a package of “exile-like” legislation when the legislature returns in January.
This is welcome news, because we believe that Project Exile has an important role to play in making Maryland’s streets safer. Unfortunately, an obstructionist state legislature has prevented Mr. Ehrlich from getting the program implemented statewide. Currently, the mandatory sentences embodied in Project Exile are only being implemented by U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio, working with the local state’s attorneys’ office, in Maryland’s most dangerous jurisdictions: Prince George’s County and Baltimore.
Following his inauguration as governor last January, Mr. Ehrlich sent legislation to implement Project Exile statewide to the General Assembly, where it encountered intense opposition. The measure was effectively killed in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee by Chairman Brian Frosh, Montgomery Democrat. Mr. Frosh refused to pass the bill unless Mr. Ehrlich agreed to a “compromise” forcing him to accept new legislation to take guns away from law-abiding folks. When Mr. Ehrlich refused to cave, Mr. Frosh saw to it that Project Exile was killed.
Given the reality that the Democrats retain majorities of more than 2-1 in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate — and were successful this year in blocking most of the governor’s agenda — there is every reason to believe they’ll employ the same tactics next year. Mr. Frosh and Senate President Mike Miller are backing a state ban on assault weapons, joined by the current frontrunners for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination: Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. Given the current political stalemate in Maryland, there’s every likelihood that this bunch will try to kill Project Exile yet again using the same kind of poison pill: tying it to some type of gun control measure, like an assault weapons ban, which will have negligible benefit when it comes to public safety, but will create plenty of new headaches for law-abiding gun owners and dealers in the state.
However, when it comes to Project Exile, there’s still reason for optimism. The Frosh-Miller Bunch is powerless to stop Mr. DiBiagio’s office from reaching agreement with more local prosecutors to go forward with federal prosecution of Project Exile cases (the good thing about such an arrangement is that the gun thugs face longer prison sentences if convicted in federal court than they would in Maryland). Until the political composition of the General Assembly changes dramatically, allowing Mr. Ehrlich’s legislation to move forward, more Maryland jurisdictions should join Baltimore and P.G. County in turning these gun criminal cases over to Mr. DiBiagio.