Former Maryland governors Glendening, Ehrlich join to support 'smart' approaches to crime

Former Maryland Govs. Parris N. Glendening and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Democrat and a Republican who have seldom in their long political careers been allies, came together Wednesday to support criminal justice reform legislation in the General Assembly.

The pair made a joint appearance at an event sponsored by the Maryland Alliance for Criminal Justice Reform, a group that advocates “smart-on-crime” policies that seek to move away from the tougher approaches of past decades.

Glendening, known during his gubernatorial years for his hard line against parole for convicted murderers, gave a full-throated endorsement of legislation that would take Maryland governors out of the process of determining whether people serving life sentences should be set free.

Glendening, who served from 1995 to 2003, said it’s not a question of taking power from the governor.

“This really is a no-win power,” Glendening said. “If you give a parole, you’ll be criticized. If you refuse to give a parole, you’ll be criticized.”

Any decision any governor makes, he said, will be seen as “political and wrong.”

Glendening said he was not addressing his remarks to Gov. Larry Hogan, who opposed similar legislation last year.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the Republican governor has not changed his position.

“It's very unsurprising that former Gov. Glendening feels this way, since he essentially abdicated this important responsibility during this eight years in office,” Mayer said. “Politics might have affected his decision-making process, but it has’t affected [Hogan’s], nor will it going forward.”

Last year’s bill didn’t make it out of the Senate, and so never went to Hogan’s desk. This year, similar bills are pending in committees in both chambers.

Glendening’s support for taking the power out of the governor’s hands is notable. Shortly after he took office, he announced a “life means life” policy, under which he automatically denied parole for convicted murderers.

The former governor recanted that position several years ago, but on Wednesday he underscored his reversal.

“My statement in 1995 was wrong. It was completely wrong. I made a mistake,” he said. “The problem must be changed and it must be changed legislatively.”

Two decades ago, Glendening said, he and others did not consider the long-term impacts of life-without-parole policies, including the costs of a growing population of geriatric inmates with disabling medical conditions.

Ehrlich did not directly comment on a governor’s parole powers. Asked if he had any recommendation on the issue for Hogan, who served in his cabinet, Ehrlich said “those conversations are private.”

The former governor, who served from 2003 to 2007, spoke generally about his support for criminal justice reform, calling it a “proud part of my legacy.” He recalled that he was sometimes criticized by fellow Republicans and praised by Democrats for favoring rehabilitation over punishment.

“It appears we were in the forefront of this movement,” he said. “We didn’t do it to gain political advantage. We did it because it was right.”

Since leaving the State House, Ehrlich has remained active in criminal justice issues. He said he recently attended a conference at the White House on prisoners’ re-entry into society — a pressing issue in both Washington and Annapolis — and met with aides to President Donald J. Trump.

“Re-entry is a priority for this administration,” the former congressman said.

While Glendening and Ehrlich never squared off against each other in an election, they were on opposite sides politically for most of the 1990s and into the 2000s. Ehrlich strongly supported Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Glendening’s Republican opponent in 1994 and 1998, and became governor by defeating Glendening’s lieutenant governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in 2002.

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