Incumbents feel brunt of voters stirred by abortion, local issues At least 6 senators, 8 delegates ousted

September 13, 1990|By John W. Frece and C. Fraser Smith | John W. Frece and C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Driven primarily by an abortion backlash, but also by a variety of parochial issues from overdevelopment to inadequate representation in the State House, Maryland voters took out their frustrations on incumbents Tuesday.

Although the overall 35 percent voter turnout in this week's Democratic and Republican primaries was a record low, according to state election officials, the impact on incumbents was unexpectedly large:

*Six state senators, and possibly a seventh, were defeated, including the chairmen of both subcommittees of the Senate's influential Budget and Taxation Committee.

Combined with three other vacancies created when incumbent senators stepped down voluntarily, the primary results mean that at least nine and possibly 10 of the Senate's 47 members will be new in January. With two or three other incumbents still facing tough re-election races in November, the turnover rate could become even higher.

*Nine House of Delegates members, including Majority Leader and Environmental Matters Committee Chairman John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, also were sent to involuntary retirement, although Mr. Arnick hopes the count of absentee ballots might yet save his legislative career.

Eighteen other delegates had already vacated their House seats voluntarily, most of them to seek other elective office. Taken together, the 141-member House faces a turnover in at least 27 seats, or 19 percent, a number that is certain to rise after the voters have had their say in the general election Nov. 6.

In 1986, 39 senators ran for re-election and 39 won. In the House, the turnover rate has fallen from 38 percent in 1978, to 35 percent in 1982 to 29 percent in 1986.

*Nor did incumbents at the local level escape the trend:

Montgomery County voters, apparently fed up with traffic congestion and the other ills of overdevelopment, ousted favored incumbent Sidney Kramer as county executive in place of growth-control advocate Neil Potter.

Two Baltimore County Council members were turned out. A four-term councilman in Harford County was defeated. Sheriffs in Howard and Harford counties and, perhaps, Anne Arundel, were defeated.

Gene Raynor, administrator of the state election board, said he believes the turnout was low Tuesday because there was no compelling statewide race. There were pockets of intense voting, but no overarching claim on the electorate's attention. Gov. William Donald Schaefer actually spent much of the campaign season traveling overseas.

Even the governor's considerable popularity failed to save some of the incumbents he backed, such as Sen. Francis X. Kelly, D-Baltimore County, and the governor himself admitted the nearly 100,000 votes his own little-known opponent, Frederick M. Griisser Jr., received was evidence of general voter displeasure with incumbents.

In some Eastern Shore counties in particular, Mr. Griisser very nearly beat the incumbent Mr. Schaefer -- a startling showing for a candidate who had no money against the well-financed governor. Mr. Schaefer said on election night that an incumbent inevitably makes enemies and creates voters who are anxious to send him a message

"It is so easy not to do anything," the governor said. "If I'd sit and watch the world go by, I most likely could have won with a triple landslide instead of a double."

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. said it was not just abortion that dominated the election, but rather different issues in different districts: meeting the political demands of a growing black electorate in Prince George's County; worry over traffic congestion along the Kent Island U.S. 50 corridor in Queen Anne's County; a backlash against development in Montgomery County; tax issues, or simply personality contests in other races around the state.

But anger over the abortion issue clearly had the biggest effect, directly or indirectly contributing to the defeat of four incumbent senators and at least one incumbent delegate.

Others lost for more arcane reasons. Delegate Philip C. Foster, D-Talbot, became a casualty of a war of attrition among four Eastern Shore counties that are allowed to be represented in Annapolis by only three delegates. Caroline County, which has been without its own delegate for eight years, claimed its own this time around, and Talbot -- and Mr. Foster -- came up losers.

"There didn't seem to be just one theme," said Speaker Mitchell. "The only theme throughout was, they wanted to throw the incumbents out and put others in."

If Mr. Arnick, who trailed by 26 votes with 151 absentee ballots yet to be counted, should ultimately lose, Mr. Mitchell will have to fill vacancies in two of six standing committee chairmanships, in the primarily ceremonial post of speaker pro tem, plus fill Mr. Arnick's job as Democratic floor leader.

Mr. Mitchell said he still hopes Mr. Arnick, a friend for 20 years, will pick up the extra votes needed to keep him in office, saying his loss would be a blow to the General Assembly and to his Dundalk-area district.

Turnout Tuesday ranged from as low as 22 percent in Baltimore to 44 percent in Cecil. Even in counties where the abortion issue was drawing voters to the polls, the turnout did not exceed the figures posted in 1986.

Mr. Raynor said the low turnout may have begun in a sense in July, the filing deadline for candidates. Fewer candidates turned out to challenge the growing aura of invincibility surrounding incumbents.

Of Maryland's 47 state senators, 10 were running this year without opposition. Of the remaining 37, another 10 faced only token opposition. The lack of challengers was chalked up by analysts to the power of incumbency, which may have convinced potential challengers they could not possibly prevail.

That power faded on Tuesday, however.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.