Anti-incumbent mood turns campaigns inside out Legislators casting selves as mavericks

October 19, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

An anti-incumbent, "throw the rascals out" sentiment has state legislators in Baltimore County campaigning this year as mavericks running against the establishment, rather than as team players or power brokers responsible for the government.

Frustration about the state deficit, property taxes and the failure of Congress and the White House to resolve the federal budget problems have conspired to make for difficult re-election campaigns, candidates and political observers say.

"Being an incumbent cuts both ways this year. It can work for you and it can work against you," said Delegate Michael Gisriel, a Democrat running in the 9th District.

"People are ready to start afresh. They want action and they're ready to throw the rascals out," said James Holecheck, a Republican challenger in the 9th District, who emphasizes whenever possible that he is making his first run for public office.

Across the county, challengers seeking to break into the General Assembly are trying to capitalize on the anti-incumbent mood.

Senate races will be contested in seven of the county's eight districts -- one of which lies partly in Carroll County -- and 36 candidates have lined up to run for the 19 contested House seats from Baltimore County.

The only unopposed legislators are Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-11th, Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., D-7th, and the incumbent 12th District delegates, Democrats Thomas E. Dewberry, Kenneth H. Masters and Louis P. Morsberger.

Some races are seen as tighter than others, but nearly every incumbent is considered vulnerable.

"I think a lot of voters out there are frustrated with the system as it is, and while some of that frustration came out in the primary, they haven't yet finished exercising their right to express themselves," said Richard Bennett, chairman of the county Republican Party.

Among the closests races are those in the 8th, 11th and 9th districts.

The 9th District race, perhaps the county's hottest, could be decided on one issue.

"The biggest issue this year is abortion -- definitely abortion," said Gerry L. Brewster, a Democratic challenger in the 9th.

L Voters in the district will face clear choices on the issue.

Incumbent Republican Martha S. Klima opposes abortion, while Delegate John J. Bishop favors a woman's right to choose. The other GOP candidate, Mr. Holecheck, opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest, when the life of the mother is at stake, or for an unwanted early teen-age pregnancy.

Among the Democrats, Mr. Brewster and Charles Culbertson support a woman's right to choose, while Mr. Gisriel said he personally is against abortion but opposes any government attempts to restrict a woman's right to one.

ChoicePAC, the abortion rights lobby in Annapolis, has endorsed Mr. Bishop, Mr. Culbertson and Mr. Brewster, a former prosecutor and the son of former U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster.

Steven Rivelis of ChoicePAC said the 9th is the only district in the state where the group will contribute part of an anticipated $40,000 treasury to candidates of both parties. He declined to specify an amount.

The district is heavily Democratic, by about a 2-to-1 ratio, but has traditionally demonstrated that it will vote for Republicans like Mrs. Klima and Mr. Bishop.

Mr. Gisriel, the lone Democratic incumbent, is running independent of his party's two challengers, who are heavily promoting their abortion-rights stands in campaign literature.

The 9th District is not the only race expected to be close. In the 8th and 11th districts, civic leaders are taking on House incumbents they say have not been responsive to local concerns.

Alfred W. Redmer, president of the Perry Hall Community Association and a Republican candidate in the 8th District, is reminding voters in door-to-door visits of the growth that has clogged their roadways and crowded their schools.

"If you look at what's going on, the widening of Bel Air Road, the building of White Marsh Boulevard, the need to build these schools -- all of these things are state issues that should have been addressed a long time ago," said Mr. Redmer, who operates an insurance and investment firm.

The 8th District's Democratic incumbents emphasize that Mr. Redmer finished a distant fifth when he ran in 1986. They add that the anti-incumbent mood may hurt other candidates, but that their record of constituent service and history of staying close to the district should keep voters on their side.

"We've tried to stay out in the community and not put a wall up between us and the people," said Delegate Joseph Bartenfelder, a two-term incumbent and the top vote-getter in the 1986 general election.

Other candidates in the race are Democratic incumbents William J. Burgess and Donna M. Felling, and Republican challengers James F. Ports and Kenneth G. Hirsch. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 8th District by a ratio of about 2-to-1.

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