Study in Contrasts in District 13

April 28, 1994

Howard County Democrats may get to witness one of the more interesting primaries in recent memory, with two veteran legislators going toe to toe for a seat in the state Senate. The contest, which is not a certainty yet, would pit incumbent Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, who has held the seat since 1983, against Del. Virginia M. Thomas, who is seeking higher office. Mr. Yeager has yet to declare his candidacy, and no Republican has filed.

If this race in the newly constituted District 13, which comprises East Columbia, North Laurel and Jessup, lives up to its billing, it could be riveting. A Yeager-Thomas matchup would offer a choice between two starkly different political figures.

Ms. Thomas, aggressive and unabashed, is fashioning herself as the scrappy independent who gets what she wants for her district, works well with constituents and is unafraid to toot her own horn. She criticizes Mr. Yeager for not fighting hard enough for county concerns.

Mr. Yeager is, indeed, a more reserved legislator who leans more toward consensus building. He contends that Ms. Thomas has a penchant for headline-grabbing, such as when she recently took

premature credit for getting additional state aid for school construction. Mr. Yeager also contends that Ms. Thomas' scene stealing may have jeopardized some school funding for Howard.

For her part, Ms. Thomas points out that two-thirds of the school construction money flowed to her district, proving her effectiveness. Moreover, she contends she has shepherded home other projects, including flood abatement, park-and-ride facility improvements and a highway buffer.

Mr. Yeager emphasizes his role as a team player, with conservative views and an interest in the broader issues of taxation and crime. His problem is that the team he plays with is a Republican-dominated delegation that is divided and not inclined to push a Democrat's agenda.

The ball is in Mr. Yeager's court. If he runs, he will need to prove that Ms. Thomas' alleged abrasiveness is a detriment, while his own style produces better results. Ms. Thomas is a dogged campaigner who appears less threatened by Mr. Yeager than by the possibility that a minority candidate could enter the race and erode her support in East Columbia. Whatever happens, expect sparks to fly.

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