Ms. Townsend on her own

Issues: The lieutenant governor begins to address important public questions.

March 31, 2002

IF SHE HAD NO opposition, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend could coast to the Maryland governor's mansion without uttering a useful word on issues of importance to the voters.

But she has at least one opponent, and she has begun giving her views, separating herself from positions taken by Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Appropriately loyal to the man who ignited her public career eight years ago by making her his running mate, she must now show what she thinks.

The end of political bystanding came with a rush last week when Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. entered the governor's race. Ms. Townsend stepped up smartly on the day of his announcement, offering support for a controversial highway project in Montgomery County - opposed by Mr. Glendening. With proper safeguards, she said, she'd be for the Intercounty Connector, a project that pits environmentalists against drivers who spend more and more of their lives in traffic.

Earlier, she had said she would continue Mr. Glendening's opposition to slot machine gambling. That position was widely seen as a bow to the influential black ministers who oppose gambling as a regressive tax on the poor.

And last week, she said she would be "open" to a moratorium on executions if a study of the death penalty and its application in Maryland reveals racial bias. In that position, too, she moved away from the governor, who opposes a moratorium.

If Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley enters the Democratic primary against her, the issue challenges will intensify. Already, Mr. O'Malley has called into question her Democratic credentials, arguing that programs of importance to real Democrats got short shrift in Annapolis recently.

The party's concern about Republican challengers led it to continue with the fifth year of an income tax cut even in the face of a difficult budget year. Was Ms. Townsend in favor of continuing the tax cut at a cost of $177 million, or would she have spent that money on education?

More than other gubernatorial candidates in recent years, Ms. Townsend will face attacks from the liberal and the conservative ends of the spectrum. It will be an opportunity for Ms. Townsend to show her mettle.

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