For Joshua Stonko, a junior at this university running for the state House of Delegates, there was no better use of a Tuesday night than attending the College Republicans’ meeting and hearing former Gov. Robert Ehrlich speak.

“I was interested to hear how managing the two parties in the state of Maryland went and the type of things we can do to make business better,” said Stonko, an economics major. “Gov. Ehrlich is someone I learned a lot from when I was younger. We need more leaders like him — I decided to seek office to follow in his footsteps.”

Ehrlich, who served as governor from 2003 to 2007, spoke to a crowd of more than 50 students on topics ranging from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to the future of the Republican Party.

He came to the university with a message: Students must learn to think critically.

“When it comes to politics, I’m not going to ask you to believe me, your professor or your parents,” Ehrlich said. “You’re here at one of the greatest institutions in the world to learn how to figure out your beliefs for yourself.”

However, for the students whose beliefs did align with his, Ehrlich encouraged them to stand strong. 

“Clearly, you’re going to be outnumbered as Republicans on a college campus,” Ehrlich said. “You have to fight and know your stuff. Understand that because your message is difficult to convey, you have to stay sharper.” 

Andrea Holtermann, a freshman enrolled in letters and sciences, said she has felt a bias against Republicans on the campus. She came to hear Ehrlich speak so she could be around people who empathized with her opinions.  

“Everyone [at the university] is very, very liberal, and it’s nice to see a group that shares my views,” Holtermann said. “I was pretty young when Ehrlich was in office, but my dad loved him, and I’ve been excited about this event since I saw the flier.”

Ehrlich became one of six Republican governors to serve in the state’s history. Elected in 2002, he became the first conservative to hold the office in 34 years.

He also created the nation’s first cabinet-level Department of Disabilities, began construction of 123 statewide transportation projects and wrote the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Act.

“I came to listen to a governor who was successful in taking a deficit and turning it into a surplus, who brought down unemployment and cleaned up the Chesapeake Bay,” said Joey Kalmin, a senior history major. “I’m a very big fan of his, and I’m looking forward to hearing his opinions on the current state of affairs.”

During his speech, Ehrlich promoted his new book, Hope for Change. He also authored Turn This Car Around: The Roadmap to Restoring America, and he donated several signed copies to the College Republicans.

Ehrlich encouraged students to get involved in local politics and said he would be available to help those interested in pursuing careers in the field.

“Showing up tonight means you have some interest, and 2014 is a good opportunity to show that,” he said.  

Breyer Hillegas, a sophomore biology major who organized the event, went door-to-door with Ehrlich during his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

“I loved hearing him speak,” Hillegas said. “He was a great governor, and we miss him a lot. He gave us hope for our party.”