Maryland voters, grumpy over taxes and rampant development, have turned out of office a host of incumbents, apparently including two Democratic county executives, and scared many of those who survived.
Defeated in the surge of anti-incumbent sentiment were Rep. Roy P. Dyson, 10 incumbent Democratic state legislators and seven county council members from around the Baltimore area.
But, while voters rejected many incumbents, they approved major bond issues for public works projects and rejected tax caps in both Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer lost 12 counties to a little known challenger but survived and seemed grateful to take home a 60-40 percent win. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran and Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein reasserted their popularity in most of the state, as each won large re-election bids over Republican opponents.
Except for Dyson, D-1st, who lost 57-43 percent to Kent County school teacher Wayne T. Gilchrest, all seven other state members of the House of Representatives won re-election by big margins.
About 51 percent of the state's 2.1 million registered voters cast ballots. In the vote for governor, 1,079,890 ballots were cast, compared with 1,101,480 in 1986 and 1,138,740 in 1982, showing a continued decline. In the presidential campaign of 1988, 1,747,350 state voters participated, a turnout that represented 76 percent of those registered.
Polls conducted in the final days of the campaign showed that Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen was quickly losing ground but also showed that Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus was gaining in his bid for Anne Arundel County executive.
"It's a volatile electorate, looking for changes, but uncertain about what it wants," said John T. Willis, a Democratic Party activist.
Anti-incumbent voters were most upset in Baltimore County, where Rasmussen, considered a heavy favorite a few months ago, lost overwhelmingly to Roger B. Hayden, a former county school board member. Rasmussen, who became known as "Taxmussen" to his detractors, lost by 62-38 percent, despite heavily outspending his opponent.
Baltimore County voters, who swept out two Democratic incumbents from the County Council in the September primary, continued their cleanup last night, knocking three more Democratic incumbents off the seven-member council. County voters, meanwhile, defeated by 52-48 percent a measure that would have capped county property tax revenue growth at 2 percent a year. A coalition of teachers, firefighters, businesses and others helped convince voters that such a drastic measure wasn't necessary.
Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo is an apparent loser, trailing her Republican opponent, Charles I. Ecker, by 244 votes out of more than 51,000 cast. That race will be decided when absentee ballots are counted later this week. Bobo, seeking a second four-year term, appeared to lose in large part because of unhappiness in the county over continued development. Curiously, also losing last night was Howard County Councilwoman Angela Beltram, the most outspoken critic of rampant growth in the county.
Whatever the cause, Republicans took advantage of the opening.
"Howard County was targeted by [national] Republicans as a county they wanted to make inroads in," said Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat who was unopposed. "It's obvious to me that [Democrats] have to regroup and we have to become more sophisticated as to how we conduct campaigns." Howard County Republicans also picked up two more seats in the House of Delegates, knocking off two incumbent Democrats, Robert J. DiPietro and William C. Bevan.
In Anne Arundel County, Republican Robert R. Neall pulled out a narrow victory in the race for county executive, defeating Sophocleus, a county councilman, by 51-49 percent. Anne Arundel voters also elected two Republicans to the County Council, the first GOP members in 20 years, and turned back a less stringent tax cap by a margin of 55-45 percent.
After last night, Harford County apparently remained the only county in the Baltimore area with a Democrat in charge. Even there, a Republican who was considered a long shot, Bel Air Mayor Geoffrey R. Close, came within 800 votes of defeating Democrat Del. Eileen M. Rehrmann for the Harford County executive's post.
Seeking his second four-year term, Schaefer tried to put a good face on winning by only 60-40 percent, despite outspending his opponent more than 23-1. Practicing a little spin control, Schaefer aides noted that incumbent governors rarely collect more than 60 percent of the vote in their re-election bid.