By Mary Otto and Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 30, 2006
Kristen Cox, wearing a pink suit and carrying a white cane, made her formal debut in electoral politics yesterday. Standing on the City Dock in Annapolis, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. introduced her as Maryland's "next lieutenant governor."
"Good morning!" declared Cox, her voice bearing a slight twang of Utah, where she was raised. She introduced her two sons -- Tanner, 10, and baby Riley -- and her husband, Randy, who she said "will be doing a lot more diaper changing" in coming months.
But then, true to her style, Cox, 36, quickly got down to business. She shifted the subject to what she said was her belief in government's power to remove obstacles to full inclusion for the disabled in schools and the workplace, a philosophy she said the governor shares.
"When I stepped back and looked at Governor Ehrlich's record, it made it clear I had to step up and run as lieutenant governor," she said.
Although she has never run for office, Cox is no stranger to the halls of power. Ehrlich (R) has often recounted the story of meeting her when he was serving in Congress and Cox, who is blind, was working as a lobbyist for the National Federation of the Blind. Ehrlich's travel records show that the federation sponsored a one-day trip to Atlanta for him in July 2000.
Again yesterday, the governor recalled that he was impressed by Cox's stamina and focus.
"When Kris zeroes in on a target, she never misses," he said. "She's been around."
"In a good way," Cox quickly added.
When Ehrlich created a Cabinet-level position two years ago to address the needs of disabled Marylanders, he made Cox the department's first secretary.
His decision to name her his running mate was met with praise and a few questions from those in the disabilities community.
"She's a phenomenal lady, extremely intelligent, and she knows how government works," said Craig Borne, who is a lawyer with the state Department of Transportation and is blind. He said he worked with Cox on the state paratransit system and was struck by her grasp of issues.
"She gets it and gets it quickly," said Borne, a Republican running for the state Senate in Baltimore County. "She is not afraid to ask the hard questions."
Borne recalled that Cox, like many blind people, uses a computer program that reads documents and e-mails aloud.
Virginia Knowlton, executive director of the Maryland Disability Law Center, which has sued Ehrlich's administration over the paratransit issue and other services, was more reserved in her praise.
She gave Cox credit for responsiveness but said the administration's record has not yet matched its words on disabilities issues.
"Twelve hundred people have come off a waiting list for community-based services like respite support, places to live and rehab services," she said. "But there are 15,000 more waiting. That is tragic in a state like Maryland."
There are those, however, who have known the candidate for years and believe that if anyone can effect the desired change, Kristen Cox is that person.
"She has always been a role model for me," said Cheralyn Creer, vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. Creer got to know Cox when both were studying special education at Brigham Young University in the mid-1990s. Cox was back from a sojourn in Brazil, where she was a teacher and missionary for her Mormon church and was balancing her blindness, college studies, new marriage and first baby.
"She was a young, blind married mother. She was always very positive and always talked about needing to figure out how to get things done her own way," Creer recalled.
Yesterday, Cox made the rounds with Ehrlich, swapping friendly banter and pressing policy issues before about 100 employees at Digene Corp., a Gaithersburg biotechnology firm.
She said she called her mother shortly after agreeing to become a candidate for lieutenant governor and described her day thus far as "fun and overwhelming."
"I was very excited but very nervous to step into this realm,'' she said. "But I am committed and excited for this opportunity."
Staff writer Matthew Mosk and researchers Eddy Palanzo and Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.