Frederick sheriff's support of Ehrlich opponent raises eyebrows
Stance on illegal immigration raises profile of challenger to former governor
Maryland Republicans notice when Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins speaks.
When the popular law enforcement officer is introduced to a crowd of fellow Republicans anywhere in the state, "the applause meter goes off the charts," said Donald E. Murphy of Baltimore County, who represented District 12A in the Maryland House of Delegates for two terms in the 1990s.
The reason: the sheriff's stance illegal immigration. "In Republican circles, this is one of the bigger issues," Murphy said.
Jenkins achieved that recognition for initiating the controversial federal 287g program in Frederick County shortly after he was elected in 2006. The program, which critics say leads to racial profiling, trains county deputies to check the immigration status of people they arrest. Jenkins said he has turned over 650 illegal immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings, he said.
Jenkins, up for re-election this fall, is unchallenged in the primary, and no Democrat filed to run against him. His only competition in the general election could be Karl Bickel of Monrovia, an unaffiliated candidate who is gathering signatures to appear on the November ballot.
So when Jenkins pledged in a YouTube video this week to support former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s primary opponent, Brian Murphy of Crofton (no relation to Donald Murphy), the Ehrlich camp was shaken.
Jenkins is the only elected Republican in the state, according to Murphy, to publicly support anyone other than Ehrlich. "When I saw that, I went, Whoa, there's a chink in the armor,'" Murphy said.
The Ehrlich campaign responded by calling Sen. David R. Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market to find out if Jenkins really meant to endorse Brian Murphy.
"Bernie Marcyzk from the Ehrlich campaign called. They didn't jump to conclusions, but wanted to know if the sheriff's support of [Brian] Murphy was valid," Brinkley said.
Brinkley, who has garnered bi-partisan support, is a well-respected voice in Annapolis and at home. He called Jenkins, who affirmed that he and Murphy agree on certain issues, most notably illegal immigration.
The YouTube video, filmed at the Walkersville Volunteer Fire Co. carnival last week, coupled with a press release from Brian Murphy's campaign put the candidate on the map and in the sights of state Republicans.
"There's this theory that Brian Murphy is tilting at windmills, that he doesn't really exist," Donald Murphy said. "Ehrlich would like the rest of us to think that he doesn't exist, and then Chuck Jenkins comes out and calls attention to Brian Murphy and makes him relevant."
Brian Murphy's making the most of his latest windfall, but believes that members of both parties support the controversial 287g program.
"Ehrlich's support and funding for Casa [of Maryland, which assists immigrants with a number of services] during his tenure as Governor is well documented," Brian Murphy said in an e-mail. "In this campaign, I am the only candidate for Governor to support an Arizona-style law in Maryland and I am the only candidate to support implementing 287(g) in Maryland. Law-abiding Marylanders, from all political parties, are supporting my campaign."
Ehrlich's record on illegal immigration and public criticism of the funding of Casa's multicultural center in Prince George's County during his tenure makes him "less than pure" in the eyes of Republicans, Donald Murphy said.
Jenkins said he was surprised at how the seemingly innocuous video pledge became "escalated and sensationalized."
He believes that his public endorsement of Murphy doesn't make much difference, but he stands firmly by his side. "If Bob Ehrlich was concerned at all about who I was going to support, he would have come to me and ask me, What do I need to do to gain your support?'" Jenkins said.
Ehrlich, he said, showed no inclination during his administration to adopt the 287g program. "I very frankly don't think Ehrlich would be totally supportive of 287g," Jenkins said. "I only say that because when he was governor, he made no move toward it."
Despite his initial reaction to Jenkins' endorsement, Donald Murphy is not surprised that the sheriff is behind Ehrlich's challenger. He heard him "rip Ehrlich for a number of things when he was in office" during state Republican party chair Audrey Scott's visit to Frederick in April. "I told him that would have been gutsier coming from a guy not carrying a firearm," Donald Murphy said with a laugh.
Ehrlich's camp skirted a question about his concern over Jenkins' support of Brian Murphy. Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said in an e-mail: "These things happen in politics, but Bob Ehrlich is confident his message of more jobs and lower taxes will lead to victory in the primary and general elections."
Del. Charles A. Jenkins (R-Dist. 3B), a close ally of Sheriff Jenkins (no relation), told The Gazette in April that he plans to work with the sheriff to write a version of the controversial Arizona immigration bill. The Arizona law requires state and local police to question people about their immigration status, and immigrants would have to be ready to prove their citizenship at any time. If they cannot, they can be arrested. The federal government is challenging the law.
Del. Jenkins announced this week that Ehrlich endorsed him following a YouTube video featuring the pair at Washington County Agricultural Fair. In the video, Ehrlich said he supports Del. Jenkins.
Del. Jenkins' opponent in the Republican primary, Michael Hough of Brunswick, called Ehrlich to question the accuracy of Del. Jenkins' statement, and said Monday that he is waiting for a call back.
On Tuesday, Barth confirmed to The Gazette that Ehrlich is formally endorsing Del. Jenkins. Though they are not in sync on immigration issues, Del. Jenkins believes the positive impact of the former governor's endorsement "far outweighs any negatives."
"I am comfortable with Ehrlich's position," he said. "You never have everyone agree with you on everything ... but because the governor is one way on immigration doesn't mean I won't continue my efforts on this."
As for the sheriff's public support of Murphy, Del. Jenkins said he is confident that Republicans will rally around Ehrlich after the primary.
E-mail Katherine Heerbrandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.