Carroll's Senior Statesmen Mark Quarter-century Of Service

January 09, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Carroll County has relatively few venerable institutions -- the Farm Museum, Main Street, fire company carnivals, Ma Baugher's pies . . . Matthews and Smelser.

The two senior statesmen of Carroll politics -- Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, and Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard -- each embark on their 25th year of service to the county in the state legislature at today's General Assembly opening.

Smelser also served eight years in the House of Delegates as a Frederick County representative before winning a Senate seat.

The two politicians have been able to survive so long in such a precarious occupation because they understand their constituents, respond to them promptly and graciously, and closely resemble them philosophically,say fellow Carroll delegates, political observers and business associates.

"I have a cement plant, an aluminum plant, an English muffin plant and a railroad in my district," said Smelser. "It's diversified, but it's pretty much a rural constituency. I like to think I represent the thinking of the majority of the constituents."

They share several traits -- both have rural roots, live within several miles of their boyhood homes and have run their own small businesses.

"They're very conservative legislators and representative of their constituencies in that respect," said Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard. "Philosophically, I don't think there's much difference between them. Let's face it, Charlie Smelser is really a Republican inDemocrat's clothing."

Each has carved his own niche in the legislature. Matthews, a tire shop owner, relishes his role as the layman pushing for tougher criminal penalties and drunken-driving legislationon a House Judiciary Committee dominated by lawyers.

"I have the chance to ask the questions as the citizen's voice," he said. "The chairman would say, 'Let's hear from Matthews, the one that's not the lawyer.' "

Matthews also serves as chairman of the county's delegation, making sure Carroll's local bills are amended as requested and approved by both chambers, and as a member of the Legislative Small Business Forum.

Smelser takes great pride as chairman of the Senate's Capital Budget Subcommittee, playing a crucial role annually in establishing the state's construction project priorities. He is a memberof the prestigious Budget and Taxation Committee.

"We have a governor now who likes to spend," said Smelser, a farmer and president ofthe New Windsor State Bank. "I like to think we control some of the spending and keep the state on solid financial footing."

That Smelser has conservative leanings makes no difference to county Democrats, who say the senator provides balance and a high profile for the party.

"People have some sense that he's tremendously well respected in Annapolis," said Greg Pecoraro, chairman of the Carroll DemocraticCentral Committee. "He has a position of real influence. It's an enormous plum for Carroll County."

Those who know the delegates say each is still more like a helpful neighbor willing to do a favor than a stereotypical career politician, arrogant and with a private agendato pursue.

Matthews "is not a flamboyant person, and most CarrollCounty people aren't flamboyant," said Joseph H. Mettle, Carroll Republican Central Committee member who ran against the delegate for theHouse District 5A seat last year. "If you ask him to do something for you and it's within his means, he'll do it.

"People feel very atease with him. They don't feel threatened by him, and there are a lot of politicians, even in Carroll County, people feel threatened by."

Matthews, 64, has owned an automobile service station in downtownHampstead since 1946, when he purchased it from his father, who had opened a car dealership at the same location in 1925.

"I grew up at my father's place pumping gas," said Matthews. "Main Street life --that's what I am, and that's what I'm sure Charlie Smelser is."

Matthews runs Matthews Tire and Auto Service, and previously operated Hampstead Auto Parts.

He became interested in government while serving as president of the Hampstead Chamber of Commerce in the early 1960s. He took a course in politics sponsored by a national chamber organization that emphasized government's impact on business.

He waselected to the Carroll Republican Central Committee in 1962, and to the House in his first attempt in 1966. He is beginning his seventh term, as is Smelser in the Senate.

Matthews says he believes in serving constituents much the same way he serves business customers to keep them coming back. Jack Keene, owner of Kemo Electrical Contractors Inc. in Hampstead, who has brought his vehicle fleet to Matthews' shop for service for about 12 years, has been a pleased customer.

"When he said something would be done, it was," said Keene. "He and his employees routinely go out of their way to satisfy. Dick is as goodas his word."

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