Challenger Sees Complacency As Issue In House Race Incumbents Counter By Touting Experience, Fiscal Know-how

October 21, 1990|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Ellen L. Willis plans to make a more aggressive push in the next two weeks to upset either of two popular incumbents for a House of Delegates seat, while fellow challenger Joseph H. Mettle just hopes to be out and about.

Willis, a Democrat, and Mettle, a Republican, are challenging Delegates Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, a 24-year legislator, and Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, for the two District 5A at-large seats.

Willis, 42, former chairwoman of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, said she'll be "coming out stronger" during her campaign stops and door-to-door visits with the message that it's time for a change in Carroll's General Assembly representation.

Specifically, she says she'll attempt to convince voters that Matthews, running for his seventh term, has been in the legislature long enough and that she'd be a more-than-able replacement.

"I personally feel he should step down," said Willis, coordinator for business and industry programs for Carroll Community College. "It's time for a new person with new ideas, perspective and energy to replace that seat.

"Complacency can be an issue after 24 years."

She won't make that view the focal point of her campaign, she said, but will concentrate on her own issues platform and qualifications. But she said she senses that voters generally are dissatisfied with incumbents this election year and that she will take opportunities to play up the issue.

"The numbers are there in District 5A for me to pull out a win," said Willis, who, if successful, would be the first woman from Carroll elected to the General Assembly. "My job is to make sure people who know me believe it is possible to overcome incumbency."

Meanwhile, Mettle, 56, of Eldersburg, who has been campaigning for one year, has been stalled entering the homestretch of the race. He injured his back one month ago and has been unable to campaign since, leaving at least two of his opponents wondering if he had disappeared from the race. Mettle said he's still a contender, but probably will be sidelined almost until the Nov. 6 election.

For two of the competitors, incumbency is an issue.

What Willis sees as a weakness to attack, Matthews claims as his strength -- his experience in office and established record. Voters' backlash against incumbents is targeted mostly at Congress and should not have much impact on the District 5A race, he said.

Longevity in office doesn't make a difference, said Matthews, especially if voters want to keep a conservative in the legislature instead of a "liberal Democrat."

"If we were both conservative or both liberal, she'd have more room to say it," said Matthews, 64, a Hampstead tire shop owner. "But there's too much black-and-white difference between where we stand."

Matthews said he feels obliged to run for re-election "to keep the Carroll County conservative viewpoint, the small businessman and the middle-class person in mind" in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats.

"We certainly don't want more of the majority party," he said. "It's too strongly one-party now."

Willis said she believes Dixon and herself would form the most effective combination for the county in Annapolis. However, her goal is to take either of the incumbents' seats, she said. She has worked with Dixon through the years on Democratic Party issues, she said.

Willis said Dixon, a vice president at Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith in Baltimore, has expertise in financial matters, while she has interests in broad policy issues such as the environment and education.

Dixon, a two-term delegate, said he has campaigned harder this year than in either of the two previous elections. He has emphasized his leadership role in the House -- he is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Pensions and the Joint Budget and Audit Committee -- and his proven ability to secure financing for Carroll projects, such as the YMCA and Association for Retarded Citizens.

"I've proven I've worked hard for Carroll County," he said. "I think people look at me based on my performance."

Mettle, a retired Department of Defense worker, said he plans to attack that performance by showing voters that Dixon "is not the same guy he was eight years ago. His voting record is more liberal."

The challengers are hoping the race follows a trend established in the primaries in which four incumbent senators who were against abortion were defeated. Willis and Mettle are abortion-rights advocates, while Matthews and Dixon are abortion opponents. Choice PAC of Maryland has endorsed Willis.

But Dixon said he doesn't think views on abortion will be a big factor in the race, partly because the House, unlike the Senate, can't have filibusters. Carroll voters also are concerned with many other issues, he said.

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