Eastern Shore residents sound off Mikulski, Gilchrest hear constituents on current events

June 06, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Staff Writer

EASTON -- With Congress in recess for Memorial Day, the senator from Fells Point and the congressman from Kennedyville roamed the Eastern Shore last week seeking the views of constituents. They got an earful.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the liberal Baltimore Democrat, heard a conservative message that emphasized no new taxes, controlling the deficit and reducing government regulations.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the moderate Republican from Kent County, says he frequently heard the question: "What the hell is going on in Washington?"

His constituents had trouble understanding the actions of President Clinton, who was viewed by some as vacillating and indecisive, the two-term congressman says.

Ms. Mikulski heard no comments on $200 haircuts and only one comment -- approving -- on the president's decision to hire former Reagan aide David Gergen and a single comment questioning the president's honesty.

That, however, did not mean any lessening of the traditional distrust of government in this rural area that relies on farming and the diminishing bounty of the Chesapeake Bay, an area struggling to retain what little industry it has.

Fresh from November's landslide re-election victory in which she swept the conservative Shore, Ms. Mikulski acted as if she were back on the hustings, working the breakfast and lunch crowds at diners and meeting with county officials to hear pleas for help and complaints about the federal government.

The mayor of Easton sought help in keeping a sportsweamanufacturer in the county; a Talbot County commissioner pleaded that the federal government not close a small laboratory at Oxford; the Talbot County school superintendent complained about guns, saying that in the last two years, "I've expelled more students for handgun violations than for drugs in the schools."

And Patti Gordy had a simple request. "We're quite interested in getting a bagpipe band" for the Denton Volunteer Fire Company's centennial parade next year, Ms. Gordy told Ms. Mikulski when they met at the Court Square Pub in Denton on Wednesday.

Instructing an aide to follow up on the request, Ms. Mikulski turned the conversation to health care reform.

"It's needed as long as it doesn't milk everybody," said Ms. Gordy.

Health care views aired

Senator Mikulski came here to solicit views on health care reform and the clear message she got revolved around money. Small business owners said they fear a payroll tax while health insurance purchasers -- business owners, county commissioners and individuals -- complained about the high cost of medical insurance and annual premium increases ranging from 20 percent to 35 percent.

Judy Stein, an Alexandria, Va., resident who also owns a house in Ocean City, told Ms. Mikulski at the Wall Street Deli in Queenstown to "work on that health care plan.

"We are paying through the nose for Blue Cross . . . and we are forced to stay with Blue Cross" because of a pre-existing health condition that means no other insurer will cover her family, Ms. Stein said.

Rita Boehmer of Herald Harbor in Anne Arundel County said she wants "health care for minimum cost." She complained over breakfast at the H&G Restaurant in Easton, "You can't take a child to see a pediatrician -- a sick child -- for less than $50."

Mr. Gilchrest, who won the Shore in a close re-election contest, also heard about health care, catching a full blast from the Kent County Medical Society that was aimed at President Clinton.

Saying they are being unfairly "singled out and socialized" in the reform package now being formulated by the Clinton administration, the doctors claimed that the best medical care is provided in a system where patients have "free choice."

"The plan is being formulated behind closed doors by a lawyer who . . . wants no contribution from the medical community," charged Dr. Patrick Shanahan, a family practitioner in Chestertown.

And, said another doctor, "I don't think congressmen think they are overpaid and they make a hell of a lot more than I do." Members of Congress are paid $133,644 a year.

For his part, Mr. Gilchrest was easier on the president.

Declaring that some type of health care reform is needed, the former teacher and house painter said, "the administration has absolutely energized the nation. Wherever I go, everybody is talking about health care reform."

Tax package questioned

Senator Mikulski also heard frequently about the budget and tax package approved by the House of Representatives on a 219-213 vote just before recess began -- specifically about the proposed energy tax. She listened carefully and expressed concern when told that it would have a substantial impact on the poultry industry -- a mainstay of the Eastern Shore economy that has been buffeted by the recession.

She refrained through her two days on the Shore from telling audiences that she supports the package, and that, as an aide said, "it will be good for the farmers" because its impact on the deficit will bring down interest rates.

But she minced no words when Robert D. Higgins, a Republican Talbot County commissioner, urged her "to lead the charge . . . on the line-item veto to get the pork out of Washington."

Before he had finished the sentence, Senator Mikulski shot back, "That's not going to be me."

She went on to explain that the issue involved a constitutional question of control of the purse strings and that a president empowered with the line-item veto could use it to retaliate against a legislator "who didn't toe the line."

For Rob Horner, the owner of the H&G Restaurant here, Senator Mikulski's visit was a pleasant surprise. "I don't agree with her politics, but I have a lot of admiration for what she's accomplished," said the Democrat turned Republican. "She doesn't mind going against the grain."

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