Explain yourselves

May 07, 2002

AS MARYLAND'S lieutenant governor since 1995, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend - depending on your point of view - has been kept tightly under wraps or has just been overshadowed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

On Sunday, amid all the staged hoopla of her long-anticipated formal announcement that she will run for the Democratic nomination for governor, Ms. Townsend took some steps toward giving the state's voters a bit more of an idea of who she is and what she would try to do if elected to Maryland's highest office.

In her 27-minute address, the lieutenant governor talked about a range of issues, including focusing on "what works" in schools, encouraging adult volunteerism, creating more mass transit and roads, and providing better health care for the mentally ill and the elderly. Moreover, she began to publicly offer her own definition of the role of government, one that appeared in theory to be less liberal than that of her current boss, as it stresses working with the state's residents rather than trying to solve their problems for them.

Leaving aside for the moment the merits or flaws of these ideas, Ms. Townsend's efforts to explain herself and her positions are welcome and necessary.

For too long, for whatever reason, she has come across as well-managed by her handlers and, as a result, Maryland voters still do not know her very well. Over the next six months leading to the general election, that must change.

The same is true for her likely Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and any of their respective primary challengers. Voters need to hear all their voices.

Since he announced his bid for the Republican nomination March 25, Mr. Ehrlich has begun outlining in more detail his views, even endorsing Governor Glendening's Smart Growth initiatives and the concept of boot camps for juvenile offenders, a program at which Ms. Townsend's team failed miserably. He plans to come out with a raft of issue-oriented position papers, calculated to push her to talk in concrete terms about Maryland issues. And he has begun lunch meetings with groups of reporters, an informal format dubbed "Burgers with Bob" to contrast with her carefully measured steps to date.

Mr. Ehrlich also has demanded that Ms. Townsend agree to engage in televised debates - to which the lieutenant governor's camp initially replied that it is too early to discuss the details of that. But yesterday, Alan Fleischmann, Ms. Townsend's campaign manager, stressed that she will "absolutely" debate Mr. Ehrlich if they run against each other in the general election and she also will debate Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley if he challenges her in the Democratic primary. That is a clear-cut promise that everyone - regardless of whom they support - should applaud.

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