Reviving the Republicans

Put the focus on personal freedom, fiscal discipline, economic development

December 09, 2010|By Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas

Former Republican candidate for governor Brian H. Murphy recently offered, on this page, his prescription for what ails the party. While he made some thoughtful points, he did not provide the right medicine. As the state party convenes to elect its new chair this week, an alternate diagnosis and treatment needs to be considered.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. ran, for the most part, as a conservative Republican, standing firm on many of the positions advocated by Mr. Murphy. Yet, he still lost by almost a quarter of a million votes in a race where he should have won easily.

Mr. Ehrlich lost the way he did because Republicans cannot gain any traction in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties, jurisdictions that accounted for approximately 37 percent of the total vote in Maryland's 2010 gubernatorial election.

If the party has a future in Maryland statewide, Republicans must become relevant in those jurisdictions, and also in those areas of Howard and Baltimore counties that are voting more like that trio with each passing election. But how?

It cannot be by simply fighting excessive government spending and taxes. Been there, done that. It didn't work.

It cannot be by following Arizona on immigration or restarting the culture wars. Those efforts might create some support among churchgoing minorities in Baltimore City and Prince George's County, but long-term, it will turn off Maryland's growing Latino population and an increasing number of voters who understand that sexual orientation is immutable.

There is, however, a path to relevance. Republicans in Maryland must commit to an agenda built on six goals: (1) working with the Democratic administration to create an unrivaled innovation economy; (2) restoring fiscal conservatism in state government; (3) modernizing Maryland's transportation infrastructure; (4) expanding educational choice; (5) reforming Maryland's system of criminal justice; and (6) strengthening personal freedom. The party should immediately pursue this agenda in the next session.

Let's hope it will be a Republican who submits legislation to spur an Innovation Maryland Prize that would offer $10 million to the individual or company doing business in Maryland that creates a cost-efficient technology to remove nutrients, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants from the Chesapeake Bay. A similar initiative, called the Ansari X Prize, generated $100 million in investment in new technologies to win its $10 million prize for a revolution in private spaceflight.

Republicans should lead state employee pension reform efforts to save taxpayers from expenditures we cannot afford. In addition, GOP legislators should demand to see time sheets for all state employees to further trim the cost of Maryland's government and find ways to do for state-provided health care what Obamacare will not: change the basic system that generates ever-higher costs.

It should be a Republican who spearheads an effort to reorient the goal of future construction by the state transportation department to build a Maglev train from Baltimore to Washington, and add reliable mass transit service to every corner of our state. This would create hundreds — maybe thousands — of jobs and prepare us for the next century.

Until every child in Maryland can attend a quality public school, Republicans should propose school vouchers for kids in failing schools. Because warehousing nonviolent criminals costs more than rehabilitation, serious rehabilitation reform proposals need to be consistently on the Maryland GOP table to end the cycle of incarceration and crime. We will save money with both these proposals and build a better future for our state.

And, finally, let's have a Republican follow conservative power lawyer Theodore Olson's lead and champion an effort to bring full marriage equality to Maryland. While many people have sincerely held beliefs against same-sex marriage, the scientific evidence that shows that who people love is not a matter of choice can no longer be ignored. Denying marriage — a basic civil right — to everyone is a form of discrimination and denial of freedom. As Republicans, it is the antithesis of why our party came to be, and, to many, a reason to never support us. The Maryland GOP can change that.

In November 2006, I wrote in these pages that the national Republican Party "must start with getting government back to the basics and making sure it does the basics well, to build a lasting foundation for America's renaissance." I am not asking for more from state Republicans, just some new ideas built on core Republican principles — the original ones. It's how we'll recover, how we'll compete in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City, and, more importantly, how we'll make Maryland a better place to live. To quote former governor Ehrlich, "Now let's get to work."

Chrysovalantis P. Kefalas is a Maryland attorney and former deputy legal counsel to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His e-mail is cpkefalas@gmail.com.

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