There'll be no filibuster on abortion bills in 1991 Despite big win, Schaefer got a message

Peter Kumpa

September 12, 1990|By Peter Kumpa

THROUGHOUT this year's tepid primary campaign, pollsters warned that abortion was the one major cutting issue. They found strong pro-choice sentiments in every part of the state. The results in a low-turnout primary proved that they were right. With the defeat of such vocal pro-life Senate filibusterers as Frank Kelly in Baltimore County, Frank Shore and Margaret Schweinhaut in Montgomery County, the scene in the 1991 General Assembly promises to be different.

There will not be another filibuster. Look for passage of a revived omnibus bill, something similar to the one that would have encoded Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court rulings but died in the Senate talkathon last spring. It will be signed into law and then challenged to referendum for a 1992 date with all the state's voters. That will get the issue out of the hands of the politicians, just what they want, a troublesome question not subject to the usual methods of political compromise.

There were plenty of signs that the pro-choice position had actually won before yesterday's balloting. None of the pro-life advocates made their position an issue in the campaign. They preferred to hide it, mute it or confuse it. Brave about their principle on the Senate floor, they ran from it back home before the voters.

The good politicians can smell out the mood of the voters without too much trouble. It was an important signal for the future when the answers from a poll came in last week from the 75 Montgomery County men and women running for House or Senate seats in the General Assembly. Asked by the Montgomery County Journal, only 6 of the 75 thought that abortion should not be made legal.

In the final weeks of the primary, a number of candidates, like Martin O'Malley trying to unseat Sen. John Pica, were shifting their position on the abortion question. It was another sign of the cutting power of the issue. Some pro-life lawmakers with ambitions for higher office were re-thinking their stand. The strongest sentiment for the pro-choice position, in both parties, was among younger voters. In two years, or four years, the issue will still with us.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer won an easy victory just as it was predicted. Still, it must have been troubling to him. When an opponent like Frederick M. Griisser, the Glen Burnie real estate super-salesman, can capture 22 percent of the vote, without any real money or sign of a campaign, he has to understand that a sizable lump of voters are sending a message.

Sure, we like you, the voters are saying. We believe you are the good leader. We trust you with the leadership of state government. But we have a few nagging doubts. Watch your spending. These are tough times for us. We worry about those little things as well, those temper tantrums, those continued quarrels with others like Mayor Kurt Schmoke that can't be helpful to you, the city or the state.

The governor poured money and energy in a number of key races. The results were mixed. The defeat of Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer had to be a shock to the Schaefer camp. To some of them, an old-timer like the 75-year-old Neal Potter, a County Council fixture, didn't seem like any sort of threat. Potter is a quiet man totally immersed in the details of county government. He was never much of a campaigner. And yet with little money, he rode the uneasiness by voters over runaway growth and development into an upset victory. Schaefer's personal help couldn't get Kramer beyond a 48 percent -- and losing -- total.

But the governor also helped Del. Eileen Rehrmann in her Harford County Executive contest. And she won with flying colors, a solid 62 percent win over fellow Democrat and County Councilwoman Barbara A. Risacher.

Does Schaefer have coattails? Take your choice, Montgomery or Harford county? The governor certainly didn't help those pro-choice winners. He was neutral, at best, on the issue, and opposed to some of them like Janice Piccinini. If she makes it through the general election, you can bet she will not be be holden to Schaefer.

In some House of Delegate races, Schaefer didn't win friends. He backed House Majority Leader John Arnick, for example, in the Dundalk district. There, the election made history for the district provided a victory for a woman candidate for the first time ever. Connie Galiazzo seemed to have a Schaefer backing withdrawn. Relying on energy and organization, Galiazzo won to break the Dundalk gender barrier.

Also breaking that gender line in the adjoining Essex district was Leslie Hutchinson, the one-time president of the Young Democrats. No thanks to Schaefer. We have all the makings of a most independent legislature in the next four years.

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