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Should Maryland Republicans surrender now or fight on?

April 16, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Is it time for Maryland's Republicans to give up?

It's a question that must be asked, given recent events, including these:

Robert Ehrlich, the first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew won the seat in 1967, was defeated by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, even though, except for Ehrlich's poor handling of legislation-of-slots legalization - Ehrlich performed reasonably well in office.

The so-called "flush tax" was a product of Ehrlich's administration; the funding it generated has enabled development to continue in areas where it might otherwise have been halted, due to a lack of sewer capacity.

But Ehrlich was rejected despite some of O'Malley's mistakes - including his choice of police commissioners while mayor of the City of Baltimore.

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O'Malley ran into problems with two city police commissioners - Kenneth Clark for his alleged involvement in a domestic dispute with his fiancee, and later with Edward Norris, who O'Malley fell out with - later became a radio talk show host in Baltimore after serving six months in prison for pleading guilty to, as The (Baltimore) Sun put it, "federal public corruption and tax charges stemming from his reign as Baltimore's police chief."

In March, the Maryland Court of Appeals tossed out a lawsuit over Maryland Republicans' procedural objections to the recent special session, in which $1.4 billion in new taxes was raised.

The crux of the suit was a seldom-cited provision of Maryland's constitution that prevents the state senate from adjourning for more than three days without the permission of the House of Delegates.

Not being a lawyer, I will nonetheless venture a legal opinion: If that's what it says in the state's constitution, it's a procedure that ought to be followed.

Indeed, why wouldn't the House, dominated by Democrats, have approved Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's proposal to adjourn for a few days to give senators an opportunity to study the tax proposals?

So it seems that even when they're right, Maryland's Republicans can't win. As I said at the start of this column, should they give up and change party registration? State Sen. Robert Neall did in 1999 after he told Capital News Service that from time to time he felt "uncomfortable and unwelcome in the Republican Party."

Neall paid the price, losing his seat in 2002 to Republican Janet Greenip, but said he did not regret the switch.

I met Neall some years ago at a Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce function and found him to be knowledgeable and personable. At the time I told a local Republican big shot that this was someone they ought to run for governor. Not conservative enough, was the reply.

Full disclosure: I am a registered Democrat, although I believe that, given unfettered reign, Maryland's Democrats would regulate and tax the state to death.

This is why we need Republicans in state office - to balance the worst extremes of the majority party.

But if a candidate is not as conservative as, for example, Ellen Sauerbrey, who lost to Gov. Parris Glendening in 1994 and 1998, that shouldn't pre-empt them from getting party support.

Maryland will support Republicans, provided they're not pro-business to the exclusion of the concerns of working people. Once in office, they could use what U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt called "the bully pulpit" to educate citizens on why measures such as the tax on computer services are a bad idea.

Why are they a bad idea? Computer-services firms need not be in a specific state to do what they do. And with Maryland's borders so close to those of other states, what's the incentive to do business here if you can provide the same services more cheaply just by changing your address?

The minority party's members, just as Neall did, need to become experts in some part of the state government to the point where their Democratic colleagues will seek them out and respect their opinions.

Neall's areas were the budget and the state's prisons, but there are other areas - wastewater treatment and its effect on the Chesapeake Bay, for example - in which local delegates could hone their expertise.

The bottom line is that the Democratic Party controls the legislature and is likely to do so for some time to come. Republicans have to make their mark with the quality of their ideas, as opposed to party rhetoric.

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

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