TWO YEARS AGO, this newspaper optimistically endorsed Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for Maryland's 2nd District in Congress. As a state delegate, he had a record of avoiding partisanship. He used his intellect to help resolve major problems.
He is still seen as a capable politician, a rising star in a Maryland GOP that needs new talent. But his freshman term on Capitol Hill proved disappointing. Succumbing to talk of a "Republican Revolution" that accompanied the GOP takeover of Congress, he was too obedient a disciple of Speaker Newt Gingrich, with whom he voted 90 percent of the time.
This would be less troubling if the Gingrich agenda reflected Mr. Ehrlich's true credo. But in his recent campaign ads he seems to step away from the hard right. This raises questions about who Mr. Ehrlich really is, and whether he will shift with each political ebb and flow.
The incumbent congressman showed some independence in voting against the campaign to set term limits on elected officials. He also need not apologize for his part in the GOP-led drive that wrested from President Clinton a balanced-budget promise. But his environmental record is poor. At home, his opposition to settlement of an ACLU housing suit was not constructive. Worse, he went into Dundalk -- known for tensions on these issues but minimally affected by the suit -- and demagogued.
TC Mr. Ehrlich has strengths, and they are considerable. He has the willingness and ability to tackle the big budget demons, Medicare and Social Security. His political acumen ensures he will be a player on the Hill. Despite ideological shifts, his overall voting record is consistent.
His opponent, Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis, a former state delegate from Dundalk, has shown a better grasp of issues than two years ago. Her support for seniors and job training reflects the views of the Eastern Baltimore County portion of this large district. So does her quiet objection to the housing settlement Mr. Ehrlich opposed so flamboyantly. Unfortunately, she has made opposition to changes in Medicare and Social Security a focal point without a real idea how to do that and still balance the budget.
So today we guardedly give Mr. Ehrlich the nod, hoping that the ideologue of the past two years was a product of the learning process; that with maturity he will use his gifts to help find answers to our problems, and not merely as vehicles for a ride to higher office.
Pub Date: 10/29/96