Mr. Ehrlich runs for governor

Bold move: The congressman aims to become first Republican to lead the state in more than 30 years.

March 26, 2002

REPUBLICAN or Democrat, Marylanders should welcome the gubernatorial candidacy of U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

If the time hasn't come for a change in Maryland government, it certainly is time for a vigorous debate about government's role.

Almost inevitably, one-party rule invites stagnation, complacency and a decline in creative thinking.

Democrats have prevailed for more than a generation in Maryland because Republicans haven't always had candidates of Mr. Ehrlich's caliber and because incumbency confers vast power that tends to perpetuate itself.

But Marylanders have not been uniformly happy with the work done in Annapolis.

In 1994, a Republican challenge from Ellen R. Sauerbrey almost unseated the majority Democrats. She lost, but her showing and her ability to raise money then and again in 1998 revealed significant GOP strength.

Now comes Bobby Ehrlich, the 44-year-old 2nd District congressman from Arbutus who announced his daring candidacy yesterday from the steps of his parent's home.

An experienced legislative battler who played linebacker at the Gilman School and later at Princeton University, he brings much of what Maryland Republicans need: youth, experience and a willingness to take risks. The latter quality may be the most important.

Too many modern politicians are unwilling to risk defeat, putting their own careers ahead of new ideas that can create political opposition - but might also ignite the fires of change. If the polls or the registration figures or other factors don't tilt decidedly in their favor, poll-driven candidates won't run. No wonder people get dispirited.

Because they have a voter-registration advantage of almost 2-1, Maryland Democrats have sometimes seemed invulnerable. No Republican has won a race for statewide office since for U.S. Senator Charles McC. Mathias in 1980.

Simply by entering the race, Mr. Ehrlich performs a public service. Already he has offered an alternative on a major issue: He's for slot machine gambling. The Democratic frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has said she's opposed.

Outside a campaign stop in Montgomery County yesterday, Mr. Ehrlich's position on gun control was challenged by picketers who charged he's too close to the National Rifle Association. He's cloaking a pro-gun voting record in a mantle of moderation, they said. That issue, too, will get plenty of attention in the coming months.

No one should become governor of Maryland simply because he or she is a Democrat or a Republican. Let there be a good old-fashioned campaign, one in which voters can take the measure of strong, committed candidates.

This election will be the first outing for a new generation of statewide leaders. All the more reason to have the best and the brightest new representatives of both parties in the contest.

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