Will Mr. Smith go to Annapolis?

THE POLITICAL GAME

July 21, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

In the fall of 1991, Pat Smith raced around Maryland urging people to support a presidential candidacy that might well have been thought of as the second coming of Michael S. Dukakis.

As campaign manager for Paul Tsongas, Mr. Smith says, "it was very difficult in the beginning to sell another Greek from Massachusetts."

Before his audiences had digested that prospect, Mr. Smith would ask them to read an 83-page economic treatise by Mr. Tsongas. The booklet came in a cardboard-like cover that only added to its likely reception as a campaign "yawner," to borrow Mr. Smith's characterization. Mr. Tsongas and his Maryland campaign manager went on to promise voters the equivalent of cold showers and root canals.

But in Maryland they didn't wince or yawn. Many read the booklet. Some of them signed on as candidates for the Democratic nominating convention committed to Mr. Tsongas. And the former senator from Massachusetts won the Maryland presidential primary by 41 percent to 34 percent over Bill Clinton with three others trailing badly.

Then Mr. Tsongas, too, became an also-ran.

Mr. Smith, who has lived and practiced law in Montgomery County since 1978, now wants to be attorney general of Maryland. Other Democratic candidates in the race include Eleanor Carey, the former deputy attorney general. The incumbent, J. Joseph Curran Jr., has said he will run for governor.

The 45-year-old son of a Massachusetts state legislator, Mr. Smith thinks he can achieve "a continuation of the Tsongas campaign." When he spoke for the presidential candidate last year, he would ask, "Do you want a middle-class tax cut or do you want a job that will last?"

He will be asking the question somewhat differently now -- and urging voters to be as open-minded about this race as they were about Mr. Tsongas.

The progressive candidate of the 1990s, the person who takes advantage of a craving for new ideas that sustained Mr. Tsongas for a time, will look for ways to make the attorney general part of an economic and job development team, he says.

Attorneys general do not usually concern themselves with their state's economy -- but they should, says Mr. Smith.

As government's general counsel, the attorney general should think of himself as someone who can compel state departments to provide answers for businessmen who might locate their companies in Maryland.

Businesses, he says, want "to go where things can be worked out." And, in general, he thinks businesses are not out to "ravage and pollute and rape and rampage the environment."

If there is potential for conflict between the attorney general's regulatory duties and his role as an economic developer, Mr. Smith says, the team he envisions would try to help businesses avoid prosecution, looking for technological solutions and ways of financing them. He thinks the connections between his view of the job and the traditional crime-fighting view are clear.

"Poverty is violence," he says. Without jobs, without a strong job base, a state has less money to strengthen its public education program, for example. And, he says, states can no longer afford to have an attorney general who is not part of the drive for jobs.

"We will continue to have problems until we have leadership that will expand the economic pie. We've got a great state to market. What you need to be is aggressive," he says. He thinks the Maryland voter will warm to new ideas about the attorney general's role.

"If we don't bring back real jobs, violence from poverty will just get worse," Mr. Smith says. "The worse it gets, the harder it is to solve."

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