Voters' Anti-Growth Message

September 13, 1990

Maryland voters are getting tired of decades of relentless growth and the perceived inability of incumbents to deal with it. This is the unmistakable message of Tuesday's primary elections.

The stunning upset of Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer by long-time Councilman Neal Potter sends an easily understood message to every incumbent official. Isn't anyone safe any more? Just a few weeks ago, a confident Mr. Kramer hinted at gubernatorial aspirations. Today he's out of a job, the loser in a contest over growth waged by a dark-horse who cashed in on public resentment over gridlock and crowded classrooms.

In Baltimore County, Councilmen Norman Lauenstein and Dale Volz were defeated by newcomers who harnessed east county residents' dissatisfaction with things as they are. In Dundalk, Donald Mason wrestled the Democratic nomination from Mr. Volz by focusing on property taxes and governmental spending. In the rapidly developing Perry Hall-White Marsh-Essex district, Vincent Gardina ran on a comprehensive anti-growth and environmental platform to defeat Mr. Lauenstein, the council's longest-serving member. Meanwhile, Councilman Ronald Hickernell barely hung onto his Catonsville district seat. Again, a key issue was growth.

The same combination of issues was effectively used in Harford County by community activist Theresa Pierno, who resoundingly defeated veteran Councilman John Schaefer for the Democratic nomination.

This is only the beginning. Growth promises to dominate the county executive races in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford counties where strong Republican candidates are questioning the stewardship of a number of Democratic administrations. Inevitably, voters' unhappiness about high residential property assessments and taxes will also be part of that debate. How significant that linkage will be depends on local conditions. In Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, where tax activists unsuccessfully tried to get a property tax ceiling on the November ballot, governmental spending is likely to be a larger issue than in Howard and Harford counties.

Will the incumbents be running scared in November? They will be confronting voters' uneasiness about a worsening regional economy. Yet the options of government are limited. Campaigns based on lower property taxes must be evaluated in light of pared regional government revenues. Voters should insist on factual discussion, not campaign demagogy.

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