Partisan gains?

November 13, 1990

Among Maryland's pundits and politicians, much has been made of the GOP sweep in local politics. Probably too much. The Republican victories on the councils or in the executive offices of Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Harford counties certainly were substantial and will greatly bolster the party's sagging image. As important, these local offices will be fertile farm clubs for GOP contenders for future state and congressional races.

But predictions of ideological turnarounds are misguided. Local government, as outgoing Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen frequently says, is the place where the rubber meets the road. Voters care precious little -- if at all -- about a council candidate's view on abortion or Social Security COLAs; they want leaders to make sure the trash gets picked up, the leak in the school roof gets fixed and that a police officer arrives when they call 911. The voters who threw out a slew of Democratic incumbents last week did not vote against the Democratic Party per se; they voted against assessment increases and uncontrolled growth. Incumbents here -- as elsewhere around the country -- became lightning rods. In their place, voters elected men and women they perceived to be more fiscally responsible. Some, in fact, like Don Mason, who was elected to the Baltimore County Council, were Democrats. Regardless, none of the winners was elected to advance an ideological agenda, and none of the losers was defeated because she or he had pursued one.

Ironically, with the economy in a recession and the voter mandate against new taxes, the new cadre of Republican

lawmakers will have to face even greater fiscal pressures than their Democratic predecessors -- a dilemma of Republican Ronald Reagan's making. Reagan's federalism not only transferred enormous fiscal burdens to the states (which, in turn passed them on to local governments), but also ran up a $3 trillion deficit that now soaks up 26 cents out of every federal tax dollar when the Social Security component of federal revenues is excluded. Faced with this impending conundrum, the voters elected leaders they believe can keep the senior centers and libraries open, the quality of education up and taxes down. In short, it is a mandate for efficient administration, and it has very little to do with party affiliation.

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