Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican who represents Maryland's 2nd District, spoke recently at The Sun with Richard C. Gross, editor of the Opinion*Commentary page, about political and financial issues affecting Maryland.
What can the Bush administration do for Maryland, which went for Al Gore?
My true hope is that the Bush administration ignores results of the general election in 2000. That's all part of changing the tone in Washington. So the air of retribution may be alive and well in Annapolis, but hopefully it's dead in Washington.
And part of my job ... is to convince the Bush administration that we're doing things here that need funding; we have excellence here. We have National Institutes of Health, Aberdeen Proving Ground, we have Patuxent River [Naval Air Station], we have an exciting mayor trying to do some things to turn this city around.
So my sincere hope and wish is that the Bush administration simply treats Maryland as it would any other state, Baltimore as any other city, and does not view the political establishment here as so negative to the Bush administration that paybacks would be the order of the day.
The mayor in Baltimore is a Democrat; you're a Republican, the president is a Republican. Will this help or hinder Baltimore?
There are partisan differences. They're not necessarily deep ideological or philosophical differences. [Mayor] Martin [O'Malley] and I met a few weeks ago. We talked about gun crime and targeting felony and possession cases in the criminal justice system and funding drug treatment slots and bringing [the] significant brownfields bill to the Congress -- which would benefit Baltimore and Maryland -- and his faith-based initiative and how it comports with the faith-based mission in the Bush administration.
There are a lot of issue areas where we can work together. Martin and I proved that can be done.
What can the Bush administration's legislation on education do for Baltimore-area schools?
There are a lot of Title I kids in schools in this city. This is a Title I-centric bill. It builds in accountability with respect to Title I [special funding for poor school children]; it emphasizes literacy and reading ability in the first couple of grades and pre-K as well. What I like about it is the accountability aspect because for the first time in a long time a federal administration is coming in and saying poor kids really deserve a break. Generally in this country, wealthy kids, middle-class kids, working-class kids have access to a decent education.
So is that going to mean more money for Baltimore from the federal government?
It's not just more money, but the answer is yes. It is money but it is also accountability. It's serious accountability. It's saying to poor parents your kids have gotten a bad break from government generally at all levels for years, for generations. And we're going to come in here and we're going to change it. We're going to make your school teach and be accountable for what it teaches. But we want these schools to perform, and if they don't, we're going to give you access to Title I dollars -- federal dollars -- and allow you to take those Title I dollars and go in the marketplace and either secure personal tutors or, potentially, a private education with those federal dollars -- not taking away from state dollars.
Can a Republican be governor in Maryland?
Well, recent experience has not been a very positive one. I do believe that the Glendening administration has overplayed its hand recently, and how that plays out in my decision is something that we really have to think about.
I do believe that the spending frenzy and the pettiness and the partisanship and the one-party monopoly-type behavior during the Parris Glendening regime is not good for the city or the state.
Are you going to run for governor?
I do not know at this time.
If Kathleen Kennedy Townsend runs, what kind of issues do you think she's most vulnerable on?
We do think there will be some issues that we can talk about. We also think there will be a lot of contrast between her public record, her record as a candidate, her performance as lieutenant governor, what she's about, where she comes from and my background and what I've done and my public record. We think there's a significant contrast there. We would talk about that contrast.
If you don't run for governor, who can as a Republican in the state?
There are many Republicans who get elected in the state and serve in the legislature who are potential strong candidates. There are other folks who have not been elected to any office. Don't forget: Kathleen Townsend has never been elected to any office. So there are folks in the private sector today who are potentially serious candidates for major offices in the state.