Maryland State Rep. Robert Ehrlich, who announced last month he was seeking to be the Republican Party candidate for governor in this fall's election, hewed to a traditional GOP tough-on-crime position as he laid out a series of criminal justices proposals -- except on the drug war. In a June 1 speech in at the Republican Party's spring convention in Ocean City, Ehrlich laid into Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening and Lt. Gov Kathleen Kennedy Townsend over Glendening's announcement on a one-year moratorium on the death penalty in the state and Townsend's support of that move. Townsend is seeking the Democratic Party nomination.

Ehrlich called for an end to the moratorium, the creation of a new police academy to provide training for expanded DNA testing and crime scene technicians statewide, and a program to aggressively target violent offenders. Ehrlich touted Virginia's Project Exile as a model for Maryland. Under Exile, state prosecutors feed gun cases to federal prosecutors, who seek long mandatory sentences for such crimes.

But on drug policy, Erhlich sang a slightly different tune. On drug treatment in the prisons, Ehrlich promised a "significant increase," but more notably, he also called for less emphasis on imprisoning nonviolent drug offenders. "You can't warehouse nonviolent addicts forever," he said. Enticing his fellow Republicans with visions of inner city black votes from Baltimore, Ehrlich said such a policy could help the party regain credibility. "That builds credibility in some areas where we have very little credibility," he told the party faithful.

Ehrlich could have been thinking about a poll his staffers ran among Baltimore voters in February. Facing off against Townsend, the probable Democratic nominee, he won among white voters by 58% to 40%, but lost by an eight-to-one margin with black voters. No Republican has won the Maryland governorship since Spiro Agnew in 1968.

-- END --
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