Bowers tries, but finds Rep. Bentley a strong foe

October 22, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

The drawing on Ronald P. Bowers' campaign literature is of an acorn on an oak leaf. "The greatest oak," waxes Bowers' unofficial campaign slogan, "was once a little nut that held its ground."

Another analogy to trees could be made of the Democrat's campaign: If one fell in the forest, would there be a noise if no one was around to hear it?

Bowers, a political novice with very little money, no organization, not even one bumper sticker and virtually no ability to attract public attention, is trying to be heard in his campaign to unseat the formidable Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd.

So far, he's not doing too well.

In fact, he spends a fair amount of time and effort complaining that the media have ignored his criticisms of Bentley's record of representing her Baltimore and Harford county constituency, and has taken note only of his ineffectual campaign.

Since his 1986 retirement after a 30-year career with the Social Security Administration, the 58-year-old grandfather has spent a lot of time researching Bentley's three terms in Congress, in between helping his wife run her Reisterstown antique shop.

Sitting in the office he has created in one of his sons' old bedrooms, under the World War II model warplanes still hanging from the ceiling, Bowers looks like any comfortable, retired civil servant. And he is, except for this difference: He's so perturbed by what he calls the enormous power of incumbency in Congress that he is trying to end the incumbency of arguably the most popular Republican in Maryland.

The Lutherville resident said he's eager to expose Bentley as a servant of special interests and political hypocrisy, only no one will listen.

"I haven't heard from the party since the primary," he said. His calls to U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office for help with research and to Rep. Ben Cardin, D-3rd, have not been returned, he said. Spokesmen for both officeholders said they have no knowledge of any calls by Bowers.

Tom Cowley, state Democratic Party executive director, said he has talked with Bowers since the primary and added that the party thinks he's an "excellent candidate" and is eager to offer support. "He hasn't complained to me," Cowley said.

Bowers' chief complaint is that what small attention he has received from newspapers and television has been "only an analysis of the noise the incumbent makes. There's no analysis of her record."

He's been so discouraged, he said, that he's slowed down his campaigning and isn't doing any door-to-door politicking. Last week, he was considering not attending a television taping at Maryland Public Television later this month for a public service show on the congressional race. He still thinks he can win, however.

Bowers -- who said he knows the Bentleys personally because his wife, June, worked with the representative's husband, Bill, in the antiques business -- said his message is relatively simple.

Bowers believes that the basic system of American representative democracy is failing because of the lack of turnover in Congress. A recent 14 percent increase in congressional expense accounts simply goes to allow incumbents to subtly campaign through constituent service and free federal mailings, he said.

Bentley, 66, who used to criticize the then-congressman, Clarence D. Long, for allegedly abusing the franking privilege by sending out too many press releases, now sends out nearly as many herself.

Bowers charged that Bentley serves special interests iCongress who contribute heavily to her campaign coffers, while publicly posturing to appear in favor of popular causes. He charged that she has voted to oppose legislation and amendments to help the environment and social welfare causes such as helping expand child care services and expand parental leave policies.

Her votes on environmental issues, he said, have been rewarded with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from big oil interests, power companies and a political action committee created by the Westvaco Corp., which owns a paper mill blamed for increasing cancer risks in its Western Maryland town.

In fact, Bentley's latest several campaign reports show contributions from PACs for ARAMCO, Amoco, Mobil, Ashland, Chevron and Crown Petroleum, from tobacco companies and the Tobacco Institute, various defense industries, Bethlehem Steel Corp. and the National Coal Association. She reported raising $298,000 this year through Sept. 30, and $303,000 in 1989. Her latest report, filed last Monday, shows her with $166,367 still on hand, after raising an additional $96,000 in the month between Aug. 23 and Sept. 30.

In response to Bowers' charges about the congresswoman's voting record, Bentley campaign director Carol Hirschburg said, "You might be for a bill or concept, but a bill presented to Congress is sometimes so off the wall that she [Bentley] can't support it."

And, if solving constituent problems constitutes campaigning, Bentley pleads guilty, Hirschburg said.

As the only member of Congress of direct Serbian descent, Bentley has worked to block resolutions she felt were insulting to Americans of Serbian ancestry, Hirschburg said. Bentley has not lobbied on behalf of ethnic Serbians still living in Yugoslavia, however, Hirschburg said.

Bowers said he hadn't planned on running for political office, but then no established political figure came to the fore to challenge either the heavy PAC contributions or what he feels is Bentley's poor environmental and social record.

Explained Bowers of his motives: "I have an idealism."

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