On Campaign Trail, Nethken Wears Faith On Lapel

February 09, 1992|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of profiles of the five6th District congressional candidates which will run in the next five issues: the three Republicans on Sundays and the two Democrats on Wednesdays.der woman -- on her way to mail a handful of letters at theWestminster Post Office -- stopped to take a campaign flier from Frank K. Nethken.

She started a conversation about the Republican party and segued into her arthritis and other ailments.

Nethken, suffering from a cold that day, was sympathetic.

"There's one who can heal you," he told her. "His name's Jesus.

"Do you want to pray," he asked, holding out his right hand. "I love to pray."

The woman ignored his hand, thanked him for talking to her andcontinued walking to the mailbox.

Nethken, a candidate for Beverly B. Byron's congressional seat, wears his religion on his coat lapelin the form of a small round "I love Jesus." He attends a Pentecostal church.

"I want the people's input," he said later. "If she had wanted to talk for half an hour, I'd have listened to her for half anhour."

The 61-year-old railroad locomotive inspector labels himself "a moral conservative populist."

Nethken has run a string of unsuccessful campaigns under different labels. Only once has he been a winner; he served one term (1978 to 1982) as mayor of Cumberland, a city of 23,500 people in Allegany County. He was defeated in a bid forre-election.

This is the second time he's run for the 6th District seat, which Democrat Byron has occupied for 14 years. He faces opposition from two candidates in this year's March 3 Republican primary.

Two years ago, he placed last in a field of three candidates in the Republican primary. He won Allegany and Washington counties and placed last in Carroll.

Nethken said he ran as a Democrat in 1986 for Allegany County commissioner and in 1970 for a state delegate seat.

He switched parties in 1988.

"I used to be a Democrat, but they became too liberal for me," Nethken said. "When they nominated (former Massachusetts Gov. Michael) Dukakis, that did it for me."

He supports Republican Patrick Buchanan for president and defines his ownphilosophy this way:

"A true populist is a person who, under no circumstances, supports legislation that will take the transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich and not return a fair amount of that wealth back to the source."

His campaign flier lists five main issues, but Nethken and campaign manager Robert Nycum of Cumberland harp on one: They want to abolish the Federal Reserve System, the country'scentral banking system, and have the government issue non-interest-bearing notes.

This would eliminate the interest the government pays to borrow money and would reduce the national debt, he said. It is a position Abraham Lincoln supported and one advocated by TV evangelist Pat Robertson, he said.

"Interest is killing us," Nethken said."I don't have all the answers, but I know we're right on this."

Many voters aren't familiar with this issue, so he is used to quizzical looks when he explains his view.

"We're not fly-by-nighters; we're not fanatics," Nethken said.

Nycum, who often interrupts the candidate to explain the issue with the fervor of a preacher, said, "Itseems like we're strange, but we're really patriotic."

A member of the AFL-CIO for 41 years, Nethken also supports international fair trade laws to increase the number of union jobs in America, a national health-care program, protection of the Social Security system and its trust fund, and a 12-year congressional term limit.

The No. 1 issue in the 6th District is finding a way to provide more jobs, he said.

His campaign organization is scant. He and Nycum do most of the work with help from eight to 10 volunteers, Nethken said.

As of late last month, he had spent $1,200 -- from his own pocket, he said.

Two former Cumberland council members who served while Nethken was mayor said he was sincere and hard-working, but difficult to deal with and sometimes flip-flopped on issues.

When the council was wrestling with whether to hire a city administrator, Nethken often changed his position, said Earnest C. Kessell, an eight-year council member.

"You just couldn't pin him down," Kessell said. "He was extremely difficult to work with. He vacillated so much."

Wallace G. Ullery, a former city clerk who served four years on the council, said Nethken was not good at researching an issue, forming a position on it and following it through.

Thomas F. Conlon, who served two terms as mayor before Nethken and who sold real estate with him, said it washard for any mayor to accomplish much because he didn't have much authority.

Conlon described the candidate as "a maverick," and said,"The sad part of it is, he's too decent to be in Congress."

Nethken is married to Theresa M. Nethken and has two daughters: Kathi Leonhardt, 37, of Rockville, Montgomery County, and Terri Howser, 32, of Cumberland.

The former Navy man said he plans to retire this summer after 36 years at CSX Transportation.


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