Ehrlich could win as true progressive

November 09, 2001|By George Liebmann

MARYLAND POLITICS has taken second place in the changed atmosphere produced by Sept. 11.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, has remarked on the benefit of an atmosphere less charged with partisanship. Yet state and local politics are not unimportant; they determine whether people see themselves as citizens or as subjects.

Maryland government has recently been conducted in a partisan spirit. Republicans have been marginalized.

Patronage has bulked large and policy small. Reapportionment now centers on perpetuating party advantage. The judiciary has become a Democratic monopoly. Larger portions of the budget are distributed on a discretionary basis by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

This affords an opportunity for GOP Rep. Robert Ehrlich of the 2nd District. His record in the General Assembly was not that of an ideologue. Since the legislature will almost certainly be under Democratic control, his election may produce a long-overdue period of bipartisan reform.

The congressman will probably be running against the heiress to eight years of nonfeasance, identity politics and financial irresponsibility when the bills for these are falling due. As a social and fiscal moderate, he is equipped to avoid the "pop issue" of abortion that has been a pitfall for Republicans, and to urge tax cuts as the result of prudent government, not its sole aim.

A large deferred agenda is available in constructing his platform, besides Republican promises to economize and modernize taxation.

Among the possibilities:

Education: Distribute vouchers for needy students, but only in Baltimore City and only in the last two grades, so as to make use of private resources and close the worst of the zoned high schools while discouraging high school dropouts.

Give extra pay to science and math teachers statewide, the unions notwithstanding -- a matter in which a state with Maryland's scientific institutions has a vital interest.

Create boards for each high school to reinvolve the business community in secondary education. Reform teacher certification, discipline and seniority systems to limit the educationist monopoly in the schools.

Promote voluntary student drug testing to change the culture surrounding drug use.

Higher education: Reform Coppin State, whose deficiencies as a four-year institution have been starkly revealed and which is impossibly handicapped by its location. Make it a two-year vocational institution so it will no longer be a drag on Morgan and the state system.

Eliminate the umbrella higher education boards and give each college its own board. Create a four-year public college in Montgomery or Frederick counties, where there is none.

Expand student aid to limit dropout rates, particularly of minorities.

Transportation: Build the Inter-County Connector, the tech bridge or both. Introduce congestion pricing and "smart roads," needed in the Washington suburbs. Limit curb cuts into major highways to prevent their usefulness from being destroyed by too many entry points.

Improve mass transit and change rules making it difficult to revise bus routes and to obtain taxi licenses.

Law enforcement: Eliminate Maryland's version of the Rockefeller drug laws, which require prolonged incarceration for many youthful drug offenders, effectively conditioning probation and parole on drug testing and treatment.

State-local relations: Give county executives and commissioners appointment power over school superintendents so as to provide accountability.

Abolish the politically manipulated state school construction program.

Economic development and health care: Replace large gifts and tax concessions to businesses with training programs for workers as Maryland's main means of attracting industries.

If Mr. Ehrlich embraces some of these issues, it will become clear that he is the progressive and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the reactionary.

George Liebmann is a Baltimore lawyer. He was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1998.

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