Think tank founder aims to change minds in Md.

February 16, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

Eli Gold voted for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. twice, but one Sunday afternoon the insurance executive is sitting in his Pikesville office, jerking open the pages of a newspaper and calling him wrong.

"There was something in today's paper that really, really upset me," Gold begins, in a measured tone.

He is not talking taxes or slots - Gold is fingering the quality that eludes many conservatives in a state where liberals dominate: a measure of faith.

"Given the trend lines here ... there's not a place for someone with my views in political life in Maryland," Gold reads, quoting Ehrlich in one of his last interviews as governor.

"It's wrong because Maryland ... is what you make of it," Gold says, his voice rising slightly in protest. "And it's hard. It's an uphill battle. It's hard work. But if people take an active interest, then it's possible."

Gold, 31, is chairman and founder of the Harbour League, a Baltimore-based conservative think tank with an emphasis on promoting free-market values. Gold is soft-spoken and avoids partisan attacks, but has been praised by his supporters as a tenacious leader poised to affect public policy in Maryland.

For the group's first anniversary dinner last month, the 150 guests at a downtown Baltimore hotel featured an impressive list of top conservatives - particularly for a group in its infancy in one of the bluest states in the country. Attendees included two leaders of the modern conservative movement: Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and president of Americans for Tax Reform and Harbour League board member Grover G. Norquist.

Also at the dinner were John Fund, an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal and frequent television political commentator; state Sen. Andrew P. Harris; Del. Warren E. Miller and Del. William J. Frank, the chief deputy minority whip.

Gingrich, one of the chief architects of the "Republican Revolution" in 1994, told the crowd if they worked hard enough, in 10 to 15 years, Maryland could see "a revolution in the state."

Not a radical idea, according to Gold. Although the group has yet to produce the bread-and-butter of a think tank - the research papers, books and voting guides - it has excited many of the state's conservative thinkers. Since the Harbour League's first meeting, which was attended by commentator Michelle Malkin at a Towson hotel, Gold says he has spoken to many Marylanders eager for real dialogue on the issues.

"What was just amazing was, I had somebody, without speaking to me ... he heard about the organization, went onto the Web site and took the highest membership possible, which is $1,000 a year. And paid via Paypal," Gold says.

"Right now it's a fledgling organization," says Miller, a Republican delegate who represents parts of Howard County. "And that's how they're framing their beginning. They've been able to bring in some very exceptional speakers. I'd probably have to go somewhere else to hear speakers like that."

Miller says the work of think tanks is valuable to legislators who are always looking for innovative ideas to tackle issues.

"It's a healthy exercise," Miller says. "We have a lot of groups on the `liberal side.' We certainly need more groups like [the Harbour League]. You need to have a wide array of dialogue and philosophy out there. From a state perspective, when you look at policy, these state groups really fill a void."

In an interview at his office, Gold, a registered Republican, says his group plans to tackle education, taxes and crime in its first research studies. The Harbour League's strategy has been to make a splash with high-profile speakers and to deliver with policy issues later, Gold says.

While declining to detail particulars until the group completes more research, Gold says he would like to see an education system outside of the public schools that would go beyond vouchers. Instead, he would prefer if the state offered tax credits to businesses that grant scholarships to students who wish to attend private and religious schools.

"When you have vouchers, you still have government control, but when you have tax credits, the money goes right to the schools," Gold says. "So I like that better; less government involvement, the better."

On taxes, Gold says: "I have a clear-cut policy on taxes - lower taxes. Lower for everybody. Period. Cut taxes across the board. If it means that wealthy people get a new Lexus because that's how much taxes they pay, more power to them."

Gold, an Orthodox Jew who lives in the city neighborhood of Pickwick with his wife, Aviva, and daughters Ayala 6, and Leeba, 2, was raised in Philadelphia. He attended Jewish day school there and eventually went to private schools in Muncie, N.Y., and South Bend, Ind. He attended Philadelphia Community College, but left without graduating, because he says, "I already knew what I wanted to do."

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