Candidates Highlight Their Goals for Office at Debate

By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Maryland's four candidates for state attorney general faced off during a debate last night at the University of Baltimore law school, exhibiting philosophical differences on how they would approach the office.

Stuart O. Simms, a former Maryland Cabinet secretary who is one of three Democrats seeking the party's nomination in the Sept. 12 primary, tried to sum up the differences during the debate's closing remarks.

"Two want to be super-cops," Simms said, suggesting that Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) and Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, the lone Republican candidate, would take a more activist approach than he would.

"One wants to be the governor," Simms added, referring to Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, the third Democratic candidate, who Simms implied has political ambitions beyond the attorney general's post.

Simms said he was the candidate who would be best qualified to handle the legal nuances that the post demands. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) is not seeking reelection after five terms.

During the two-hour debate sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association and held before an audience of about 150 people, Rolle said he would emphasize the attorney general's role as chief law enforcement officer for the state.

Rolle spoke passionately about toughening laws to punish criminals who prey sexually on children, telling the audience that he was galvanized several years ago by a case he prosecuted involving the killing of a 9-year-old boy in Frederick County by a man who had been released on parole.

"As your attorney general, the first thing I will do is draft a bill that will abolish parole for child sexual predators," Rolle said. "If protecting our kids from sexual predators makes me a super-cop, then I wear that label very proudly."

Perez took the most aggressive stance on whether the attorney general should challenge federal restrictions and push for a program to allow Maryland residents to import low-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

"Sometimes you have to push the envelope in pursuit of the right thing," he said.

Gansler, who is starting television ads in the Washington area today, was more cautious. "I don't think that the role of the attorney general should be to break the law," he said.

In response to the same issue, Rolle said the role of the state attorney general's office should not be overstated. "It's not the job of the attorney general to become some sort of activist legislative body," he said.

The candidates all supported stricter enforcement of environmental laws, competing with each other to demonstrate who would be toughest on the issue.

"I want to be the environmental attorney general," said Gansler, who added that he would support the pursuit of violators from other states. "We can certainly go after hog farmers from Pennsylvania who are sending pollutants down the Susquehanna River into the Chesapeake Bay."

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