The question that would not go away at a Shipley's Choice District 33 political forum Thursday was, "Do you support East-West Boulevard?"
Throughout the debate, candidates kept trying to present their positions on abortion, the environment, fiscal responsibility and education reform.
But it was clear from the outset that they had been assembled in the heart of a 600-home community built around the right of way for the proposed Ritchie Highway-Route 3 connector in order for residents of northern Severna Park to grill them about the road.
Fifteen of the 20 written questions posed to the six candidates vying for three House of Delegates seats asked one variation or another of the East-West Boulevard question. And it was obvious the 25 residents wanted a firm 'yes' or 'no' to help them make their decision at the polls.
The candidates' positions fell roughly along party lines, with two of the Democrats opposing any kind of State Highway Administration involvement in constructing the road. They suggested local alternatives instead. The three Republicans said they will wait to see a concrete proposal due from the SHA early next year before they commit themselves.
Democrat Sabine Bosma, who is running primarily as an abortion-rights candidate, supported both a four-lane East-West Boulevard and the expansion of Benfield Road to four lanes.
Delegate John Gary, R-Millersville, said he would wait for highway analysts to complete their study of the proposal.
"If the study says what I think it's going to say, then I'll support it.
It would not be a responsible position for me to take as a legislator for me to hold one community's needs hostage over another in my district," Gary said, referring to the widely held theory that new developments in northern Severna Park are aggravating traffic congestion on Benfield.
Delegate Elizabeth Smith R-Davidsonville stepped more gently around the issue: "There are five options on the table that (the SHA) is studying. I think we should first decide what they are proposing, find out what the community thinks of it and then take a position."
Republican candidate Edwin Edel, of Crownsville, took what he described as a simplistic view: "What are the options? What are the pros and cons?
Are the citizens for it?"
Democratic challenger Bill Burlison, of Crofton, said the proposed road is "a miniature Eastern Bypass," referring to the proposed interstate bypass around Washington, and that he was "vigorously opposed to both."
Delegate Marsha Perry, D-Crofton, who reversed her position favoring the road last September when she discovered the state proposal could expanded to four-lanes, said the road under state control would be a connector for through traffic coming down Route 10 seeking to cross over to I-97. She recommended improving Benfield Road and considering a county-built two-lane road or a "back-door" connection between Obrecht and Brightview roads.
In the so-called "controlled debate format" of the 2 -hour forum, the candidates were not involved in any direct exchanges.
However, Burlison, a former U.S. Congressman from Missouri, criticized the incumbents for being complacent about the proposed Eastern Bypass and said that unlike them, he supports abortion rights and opposes gun control.
Burlison was the only candidate to oppose gun control on the grounds that it violates constitutional rights and that guns provide an effective civil defense against crime. The other five candidates favored control of small handguns and semi-automatic weapons.
All three incumbents believe abortion rights should be restricted to one degree or another.
Smith said her position against abortion -- "because it is a life or death issue" -- is the only issue she has ever voted on despite her constituents' beliefs. She said she could not support "abortion on demand for sex control or issues like that," though she could support a bill allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or matters of health.
Gary echoed Smith's position of restricting abortion.
Perry said she believes adults should have the right to choose. Minors, she said, should have parental consent, or a judge's approval to receive an abortion.
Burlison, Bosma and Edel all said they strongly favor abortion rights.