Potential foes show little discord


April 25, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

On the eve of his final day as U.S. attorney for Maryland, Richard D. Bennett wasn't officially allowed to say that he was seeking the Republican nomination for state attorney general.

But that didn't stop him from debating environmental issues in Hampstead Thursday night with his likely primary challenger, Del. Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County.

The Hatch Act bars federal employees from political campaigning.

It also didn't stop Mr. Bennett from indulging in some last-minute jabs at his boss.

"Somebody over here asked me to talk about Janet Reno," Mr. Bennett said to the spring meeting of the Tri-District Republican Club. "Uh, that wouldn't be such a good idea right now."

Mr. Bennett, like all his Bush administration counterparts, was asked to tender his resignation when Ms. Reno became U.S. attorney general. Ms. Reno accepted his resignation, and, on May 1, Mr. Bennett will become a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Miles & Stockbridge.

"She asked me to stay on until they found a replacement," the attorney said. "I told her she has until 5 p.m. tomorrow [Friday]."

After stating emphatically that he wasn't a candidate for the job as the state's top attorney, Mr. Bennett took turns with Mr. Flanagan -- who already has announced his campaign for the post -- in blasting what they see as a proliferation of environmental laws over the last decade.

"The bottom line is, the public pays the bills created by these regulations," Mr. Flanagan said. "As long as we're living in a free-market economy, the cost to business is passed on to consumers. . . . Ultimately, there is a cost to environmental regulation."

Mr. Bennett's office has ardently prosecuted environmental offenders for several years. But he takes a dim view of what he sees as excessive regulation.

"There is an incredible level of bureaucracy," he said. "We may have a wonderful network of state employees, but the bureaucracy can be pretty intimidating."

The two men talked about state and county forest preservation VTC laws and concluded that Carroll's regulations might be too stringent.

"Carroll County has taken a stronger stand on this question than the state has," Mr. Bennett said. "The bigger question is, does this adequately allow for the changing character of the county from rural to suburban?"

The discussion ended on a decidedly political note, with both men vowing to take on the Democratic Party in 1994.

"What we're all about is politics," Mr. Flanagan said. "It all comes down to how the people vote. And how they vote depends on how educated they are on the issues."

Mr. Bennett said that rumors of the Republican Party's death are a premature.

"Democrats tell me this party is not alive," he said, glancing toward William Shepard, the party's unsuccessful 1990 gubernatorial candidate. "They tell me we don't have a chance. But there are 170 of you out there on a cold spring night in an off-election year. I'd say that speaks well for us."

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