GOP lining up challengers for Mikulski's seat


Search: Maryland Republicans are eyeing a Montgomery County businessman to make a run for the Senate.

April 15, 2003|By Tim Craig and David Nitkin | Tim Craig and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

MARYLAND Republicans are trying to woo a successful Montgomery County businessman into the uphill fight next year to unseat the state's junior U.S. senator, Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski.

Joshua B. Rales, a Potomac attorney and real estate developer, says he will decide within two months whether to challenge the three-term incumbent from Baltimore.

GOP insiders say Rales would be an attractive candidate because he comes from the state's most populous county and, because he is Jewish, could potentially lure votes from a traditionally Democratic constituency.

But most of all, Republicans are hopeful that Rales would dump some of his personal fortune into the race, sparing the GOP from having to raise the millions it would take to seriously challenge the well-funded Mikulski.

"We would certainly bring some money to the table," said Rales, who estimates he would need "at least $10 million" to run a competitive campaign. He said he was "assessing" how much of his own money he would spend.

Rales describes himself as a "very moderate" and "very tolerant" Republican who supports abortion rights and gay rights. He also calls himself fiscally conservative, and said he strongly backs President Bush's war on terrorism.

A political newcomer, Rales concedes Mikulski would be a formidable opponent, but thinks she is vulnerable because of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s victory last year.

"I think she falls a bit short in the area of new ideas," Rales said.

Eric Sutton, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said three other Republicans also are eyeing the race. He said the party likely will rally around one candidate by year's end to avoid a divisive primary.

Mikulski -- who had $362,061 in her campaign account as of December -- has yet to formally announce her candidacy, but her staff says she is laying the groundwork for a tough fight.

"She is definitely running and putting the pieces in place for an effective, all-out campaign," said Liz Lubow," a Mikulski spokeswoman.

State government keeps things all in the family

Despite a hiring freeze and growing budget deficit, Maryland state government remains a good place to work -- especially if you're the spouse of a current or former Republican lawmaker.

Sandra Nelson Redmer, the wife of House Minority Leader Alfred W. Redmer Jr. of Perry Hall, begins work tomorrow in the state Department of Agriculture as a special assistant to the deputy secretary and legislative liaison.

She will earn $51,200 in the position, said department spokesman Don Vandrey.

Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley said he has known Sandra Redmer's family for years. The Nelsons are prominent farmers in Somerset County, he said.

"She has a good background in agriculture, having been raised on a farm," Riley said. He added that he was impressed that Sandra Redmer had spent nearly three decades with one employer, Peninsula Bank, a division of Mercantile Bankshares Corp. Most recently, she had been a vice president.

"The fact that she's been on one job for 28 years is very impressive, and certainly indicated to me stability," he said.

While Sandra Redmer listed Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus of Somerset as a reference, the administration did not apply pressure to make the hire, Riley said. He said he never spoke with Red- mer's husband, but conceded that the connections could prove useful.

"It can't hurt us having a well-known legislator as a friend," Riley said.

This year, Julie Madden was hired as director of arts and community outreach in the Department of Business and Economic Development. She is the wife of former senator and current Ehrlich political adviser Martin G. Madden of Howard County,

Julie Madden earns $71,123 yearly, according to Karen Glenn, a department spokeswoman.

Martin Madden said his wife was an art history major in school, served as a trustee of Maryland Citizens for the Arts and was on board of the African Art Museum of Maryland in Columbia.

"It's her life's passion," he said.

Before filling both positions, the departments needed waivers to circumvent the hiring freeze, which has been in place since last year, officials said.

Ehrlich spokesman Greg Massoni said the new hires reflect "traditionally what's been done."

"New administrations always bring on new people -- people they can trust," he said.

"We don't let party stand in the way of people being hired if they do a good job and they are loyal to the governor," Massoni said.

Bill on redistricting study tanks in General Assembly

Among the bills that became recycling fodder when the General Assembly session ended last week: a proposal to study and recommend improvements to Maryland's once-a-decade redistricting process.

Almost all agree that last year's redistricting was a mess. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative map was declared unconstitutional. Miller was reprimanded after telephoning Court of Appeals judges presiding over the case. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. was defeated after the court redrew his Western Maryland district.

"This seemed to be a good time to objectively and coolly consider another way," said Del. John R. Leopold, an Anne Arundel County Republican. But Leopold's bill never got a hearing, and died in the Rules Committee. It seems the Democrats haven't given up all power yet.

Leopold vows to return with the bill next year.

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