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Candidates' answers raise more questions

May 28, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Last Sunday The Herald-Mail printed the results of Andrew Schotz's question-and-answer session with Maryland gubernatorial candidates Robert Ehrlich and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Their replies raised as many questions as they answered.

On the issue of downtown Hagerstown campus of the University Systems of Maryland, Townsend backed the downtown location decreed by Gov. Paris Glendening and said she felt the funding would be there to complete it.

Ehrlich said that "some people here for whom I have I have great respect" have proposed that even at this late date the location be shifted back to Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park on Interstate 70.

That would make it more like the Shady Grove campus that university officials had hoped to replicate here, but would be a major blow to city officials' hopes that this project will rejuvenate downtown. Both candidates need to say how they'll make their separate visions come true. Will Townsend commit the extra money needed to make a downtown campus attractive, and will Ehrlich offer something else if he takes the campus away?

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On the subject of parole, Townsend said she supported the life-without-parole sentence that keeps violent criminals incarcerated. Ehrlich said he would not have a blanket policy for parolees and that he might grant it, even for a lifer, if "humane considerations" were involved.

Both candidates need to know that Hagerstown does have a problem that involves the parole system, but it may not be the one they think. Because the use of parole has been restricted, many inmates do their full terms, after which they get out under "mandatory release" status.

At that point, the state cannot restrict where they live, which means that someone born in Prince Georges County who was arrested for selling drugs there does not have to go back there after his release. Had that same inmate been paroled a little earlier, a number of restrictions, like where he could reside, could be attached to that get-out-of-jail deal.

The two also spoke about the death-penalty moratorium, which is one of those issues, like proposals to outlaw flag burning, that stir emotions, but which would have little practical effect.

Why not? Because, as explained at length by David Von Drehle in the Feb. 5, 1995 issue of The Washington Post Magazine, the U.S. Supreme Court has imposed standards for death-penalty cases that are so stringent they're almost impossible to meet.

And, Drehle notes, that "every cost study undertaken has found that it is far more expensive, because of added legal safeguards, to carry out a death sentence than it is to jail a killer for life."

In other words, if you're upset about the way the death penalty works, the only real remedy available is at the federal level.

On boot camps for juvenile offenders, Ehrlich has tried to score points on Townsend by saying he'd revive the program, shut down after allegations of abuse by some correctional officers there. Townsend admits mistakes were made and says the research says the program doesn't work.

Let's dismiss Ehrlich's position as the political ploy that it is. After spending big dough to settle those claims of abuse, re-opening the program would only invite future claims.

Townsend's reply doesn't answer some key questions. If the research indicated such programs didn't work, why did it take allegations of abuse to shut them down?

More important, while no one expects the lieutenant governor to look over the shoulder of every program manager, this was a foul-up of epic proportions. The Baltimore Sun's fine series on the camps noted that money appropriated to help camp graduates make the transition back to their old neighborhoods - without slipping into their old ways - was never spent! This was Townsend's area to supervise, so why didn't she put people in place who could get the job done? And does she have the savvy to put good people in such jobs if she is elected governor?

As for Ehrlich, when he was in Hagerstown, he claimed that in an attempt to balance its last budget the Glendening administration hadn't made mandatory contributions to the state pension system. It's especially important to Hagerstown because not only are city employees in the state system, but city government has been hit hard twice in the last 20 years for large payments to cover what state officials said was an underfunded system.

When I asked state Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, about Ehrlich's claim, he said the system was fully funded. I've tried to follow up with Ehrlich's people, but nobody's gotten back to me.

Finally, there's the gambling issue. This year the General Assembly passed a budget that will increase aid to education with a tobacco tax increase, but that fix won't last more than two years. Ehrlich favors slot machines at the state's race tracks. Townsend, following Glendening's lead, opposes slots.

Townsend told Schotz that "if we care about our kids' education, we should figure out a away to do it that doesn't entail undertaking activities that support street crime, aggravate addiction and hurt small businesses."

Why could be in favor of such evils? But opposing evil won't fill the financial hole the legislature dog for Maryland this year. You may disagree with Ehrlich's solution, but at least he's offered one. To be a credible candidate, Townsend must provide one of her own.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-mail newspapers.

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