WHETHER MARYLAND Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) acted appropriately as a parent in the well-publicized events related to his son’s “senior week” at Bethany Beach is beyond ken. But it’s clear that as Maryland’s top law enforcement officer he fell woefully short. That — and his fumbling response to this and other recent questions about his actions — has made for a disappointing start to his campaign for governor.

“Do I have any moral authority over other people’s children at beach week in another state? I say no,” was Mr. Gansler’s answer when confronted by the Baltimore Sun with a picture of him at a party in Delaware last June where there was apparent underage drinking. His son was among a group of Landon School graduates whose parents had rented a vacation home for what’s become a high school ritual, and Mr. Gansler said he dropped in on the party to give his son a message. After that lawyerly dodge (he told us it was taken out of context) was widely mocked, Mr. Gansler Thursday called a press conference to allow that his failure to investigate what was going on at the party was “a mistake that I made.”

It is hard to see how Mr. Gansler could not have realized what was going on around him; the reasonable conclusion is that he condoned, if not enabled, the behavior. Beach week is notorious for underage drinking; Mr. Gansler had helped explain house rules for the teens that, while forbidding hard liquor and drugs, was noticeably silent about beer and wine. And, as he sheepishly acknowledged Thursday, the contents of those conspicuous red plastic cups held by the teenage party-goers “could be Kool-Aid . . . but there’s probably beer.”

While many parents may tolerate such behavior, in Mr. Gansler’s case the hypocrisy is blatant. He took an oath to uphold the law. He has publicly advocated against underage drinking, including taping a video in which he lectured parents that “you’re the leading influence on your teen’s decision not to drink.” His campaign Web site for governor touts his efforts to stop the marketing and sale of alcohol to minors.

The controversy comes on the heels of revelations of complaints by the Maryland State Police that Mr. Gansler regularly ordered troopers assigned to drive to him to speed and run red lights when not appropriate. Mr. Gansler’s troubling reaction was to accuse the police commander who documented the accounts of being a “henchman” politically motivated to help one of his opponents in the Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D).

Neither of these episodes should disqualify Mr. Gansler from the governorship. But he has no one but himself to blame for the fact his campaign is off to such a horrendous start. If if it now implodes then he won’t be the only loser; so will be Maryland voters who may be denied real debate and choice on the critical issues facing the state.