Cox makes shift to back Ehrlich policies

She shares stance even when it breaks with Mormon faith

July 01, 2006|By JENNIFER SKALKA | JENNIFER SKALKA,SUN REPORTER

In her first day as the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Kristen Cox said she shares Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s views on a range of issues from abortion to slots -- even when those positions break with some of the teachings of her Mormon faith.

Cox, 36, sided closely with the governor, a marked shift from Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele. Unlike Ehrlich, Steele, now a candidate for U.S. Senate, opposes the death penalty and abortion, feelings he explains as keeping with his Catholic faith.

In her first extended interview with The Sun since joining the ticket, Cox, who officially filed for office with Ehrlich yesterday in Annapolis, said she opposes abortion but that "at the end of the day, he's the boss, and he makes the decisions."

"Personally I don't condone it; however, it is the law of the land," said Cox, who is blind and who is Maryland's first disabilities secretary. "As lieutenant governor, I would certainly uphold the law of the land."

Asked to elaborate on her potential policies should she have to assume the governor's office, Cox balked, saying she would "want to answer that if I were to take over that office. Until then, that's my position."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are known as Mormons, opposes abortion, according to its Web site. It allows for exceptions if the life or health of the mother is at stake or if a fetus is not viable. Abortions are permitted in cases of rape or incest, as well.

"The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically," says a statement on the Web site. "Abortion is a most serious matter and should be considered only after the persons involved have consulted with their local church leaders and feel through personal prayer that their decision is correct."

Cox, who was raised outside Salt Lake City, said faith has been a central part of her life. She is a former Mormon missionary and left the church-run Brigham Young University to spend 18 months in Brazil, where she learned fluent Portuguese. She teaches a Sunday school class to teenagers at her Towson church, which she said her family attends regularly. She is married and has two children.

The Mormon church also opposes gambling, while Ehrlich made the legalization of slot machines a priority during the first three years of his administration.

Cox said that Mormons are "not big fans of gambling" and that she personally opposes it. But she echoed a frequent Ehrlich refrain -- that the fate of the horse-racing industry is at stake -- in backing the governor's political position. Representatives of the horse-racing industry want slot machines at racetracks, but critics say placing them there would provide an indirect subsidy to the tracks.

"If I were to start all over again in the country, I wouldn't put lotteries out or gambling out as a way to raise money; however, in Maryland, as a practical matter, I think it's a little hypocritical because we already have a lottery in place," she said.

"Practically, I would have to say I'm not going to oppose slots because of the opportunity costs it would have for the horse industry."

Cox also backed Ehrlich on embryonic stem cell research, which scientists believe could lead to cures for debilitating diseases, such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. In the past, Ehrlich did not advocate legislative proposals committing state money for embryonic stem cell research. But this year, with public polls overwhelmingly supportive of such initiatives and a re-election campaign looming, the governor signed a bill authorizing state aid for research.

Many Christian conservatives liken the destruction of an embryo to abortion.

Cox said that her faith does not have a clear position on embryonic stem cell research. She said embryos that would otherwise be discarded should be used responsibly, and with the input of the bioethics and scientific communities, to help find cures for diseases.

The governor and his new running mate also agree on the death penalty. Ehrlich has signed off on two executions since taking office in 2003 as the first Republican governor in Maryland in three decades.

"It's obviously not an issue that I take lightly, but it is something that I do support," Cox said.

On a radio talk show on WCBM yesterday, Cox said she also supports Ehrlich's position on same-sex marriage. "He does not support marriage between gay couples, nor civil unions, and as lieutenant governor, I would support that position," Cox said, a stance keeping with church doctrine.

She applauded him, however, for appointing a gay judge to the bench.

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