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Doug Gansler loves being AG, but his war chest is growing

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, sounding for all the world like a gubernatorial candidate, voiced deep concern about what he called the state’s failure to keep and attract large companies, and said he opposes the coming gas-tax increase proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler says he hasn't ruled out anything when it comes to his future plans.

Gansler, however, declined to declare outright that he will run for governor, saying that announcement — if it comes — will likely not be made before fall.

Nor did he foreclose the possibility of seeking a third term as attorney general.

“I haven’t ruled out anything,” Gansler said during a recent interview with Daily Record editors and reporters.

“What’s not to like about being attorney general?” he added, noting the job includes fighting crime and polluters and protecting consumers. “I love what I do.”

But Gansler displayed as much ease discussing issues facing the governor as he did in addressing his tenure as the state’s top prosecutor.

He called the coming 4-cents-per-gallon increase in the gasoline excise tax “extremely unfortunate,” saying it will be “hitting working families and poor people.”

Gansler also said companies should stay in or come to Maryland, citing the state’s highest percentage of advance degree holders per capita in the U.S., its high concentration of personal wealth and its leading research institutions, such as Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health.

Gansler’s desire for higher office is perhaps the worst-kept secret in the state. Known as a champion fundraiser, the 50-year-old would begin a run for governor with more than a 3-to-1 money lead over his nearest would-be competitor.

According to the most recent documents filed with the State Board of Elections, Gansler had $5.2 million in the bank as of Jan. 9, compared to $1.6 million for Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who announced his run for governor Friday.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur, D-Montgomery, is also considering a run for governor. She has banked $381,000 for her potential run, according to her January filing.

Gansler, a 1989 University of Virginia law school graduate, began his legal career that year as a law clerk for Maryland Court of Appeals Judge John C. McAuliffe. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., from 1990 to 1998, when he ran successfully for Montgomery County state’s attorney.

After serving two terms in the county, he won the race for attorney general in 2006.

Even as he eyes the governor’s mansion, Gansler said he misses his days prosecuting cases before juries.

He cited his Oct. 5, 2009, argument before the Supreme Court in Maryland v. Shatzer as a highlight of his time as attorney general. In their Feb. 24, 2010, decision, the justices unanimously agreed with Gansler that police detectives did not violate a defendant’s constitutional rights when they sought to re-question him without an attorney present more than 2 1/2 years after he had invoked his right to remain silent during a prior interrogation.

Within the next few years, the Supreme Court could take up a legal challenge to Maryland’s new gun control law, but Gansler will not be there to defend it if he forgoes or fails to win a fourth term as attorney general.

Nevertheless, Gansler predicted a victory for the state if a case gets to the justices.

He said the Supreme Court would hold that the Second Amendment protects the right of citizens to keep a handgun in one’s home for self protection but does not bar states from requiring the training, fingerprinting and licensing of all new gun purchasers or imposing strict punishments on people who purchase guns for ex-convicts.

“They [who oppose the gun law] are going to lose, but they’re going to go through the courts,” Gansler said.

In an April 30 letter to O’Malley, Gansler stated that the gun bill passes constitutional muster even under the strictest legal standard of being the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling governmental interest.

“There can be no doubt of the [state’s] compelling governmental interest in protecting its citizens and police and reducing crime,” Gansler wrote. “Moreover, there was substantial evidence presented at the committee hearing regarding this bill … demonstrating the relationship between firearms licensing and crime prevention.”

The gun bill was “crafted carefully to balance the rights of legitimate gun owners with the need for increased public and law enforcement safety from gun violence,” he added. “We are confident that the resulting legislation is constitutional and legally enforceable.”

In contrast to his outspokenness on the gun bill, the usually loquacious attorney general and supporter of capital punishment was oddly silent this past General Assembly session as legislators debated legislation to abolish Maryland’s death penalty. (The repeal bill passed and Gov. Martin O’Malley signed it into law May 2.)

“The death penalty is an issue I don’t feel very passionate about,” Gansler said in explaining his silence. “I happen to agree philosophically with it.”

He added that death might be a just punishment for mass murder, such as the Boston Marathon bombing or the slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

On another matter, Gansler said he is not greatly concerned with what many regard as the inordinate amount of time the Court of Appeals has taken to issue decisions in several criminal appeals, noting that these longstanding cases involved appeals brought by convicted defendants.

Gansler, however, did criticize convictions of defendants being overturned based on a “technicality.”

As an example of a technicality, Gansler cited the Court of Appeals’ 1999 decision overturning the triple-murder conviction and death sentence of hit man James Perry for the 1993 killing of Mildred Horn, her 8-year-old disabled son, Trevor, and Janice Saunders, Trevor’s nurse, in the Horns’ Rockville home.

The high court ruled 4-3 that Perry’s damning telephone conversation with the man who ordered the hit, Lawrence Horn — Mildred’s ex-husband and Trevor’s father — was surreptitiously recorded in violation of Maryland law. Lawrence Horn made the recording, which police retrieved while executing a search warrant of his Los Angeles apartment.

Gansler, then Montgomery County state’s attorney, retried Perry. He was convicted and sentenced in 2001 to life in prison, where he died in December 2009.