Strong GOP dares to hope for majority on council

June 12, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

When Helen Fister went to register to vote as a Republican shortly after moving to Anne Arundel County in 1961, she remembers being cautioned against it.

Because there were few registered Republicans in the county and fewer GOP candidates, "they told me it was no use because I'd never get to vote in a primary," she recalled.

But how the times have changed, said Mrs. Fister, chairwoman of the county's Republican Central Committee, the party's elected policy-making body.

This year, for the first time in the 33 years she has lived in Anne Arundel, the GOP will challenge the Democrats for every elective seat. And where party officials hoped only to end the Democrats' monopoly on the County Council four years ago, they now boast of their chances of inning a majority this fall.

"A few years ago, they kept saying the Republicans are coming, the elephants are coming," said County Councilwoman Diane Evans of Arnold, one of two Republicans to crack the seven-member panel four years ago. "Well, we're here."

Republican candidates are turning up in what once were Democratic strongholds, places including Linthicum and Glen Burnie where the Democrats have not faced opposition for the District 32 House of Delegates seats in decades, if ever.

In District 31, where blue-collar roots in Brooklyn Park and Riviera Beach once made it a Democratic stronghold, two GOP tickets are vying for the right to challenge the Democrats in November.

"North County has always been written off as a big Democratic area in the past, but not any more," Mrs. Fister said. "We're not giving any one of those Democrats a free ride this year."

"This county has been dominated by one party for too long," said Ed Priola, one of two Republicans running for delegate in District 32. "That's dominance spelled with a 'D' as in political dinosaur and Democrat."

Democratic officials make no bones about it. They can feel the Republicans breathing down their necks.

The Democrats still outnumber their rivals, but the gap has narrowed significantly in recent years. Twelve years ago, Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans by a margin of more than 2 to 1 -- 100,936 Democrats to 43,152 Republicans.

Since then, the GOP has nearly doubled in size -- to 75,464 registered voters -- while the Democrats' ranks are up slightly (105,357 voters as of June 3).

The GOP's surge dominated the program at the Democrats' annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner Wednesday night in Severna Park.

"This is the first time I can remember that we'll face a Republican in every office from top to bottom," said state Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat. "But we're better off now that the wolf is finally at the door and we're no longer waiting for the termites to tear down the house."

The Democrats are concerned not only about the Republicans' growing numbers, but also about their growing partisanship.

Although county Republicans have had several prominent elected officials in the past -- notably former U.S. Rep. Marjorie S. Holt and three of the county's four executives -- they have never been particularly partisan in their politics or rhetoric, said state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat. Some of them, including former GOP Executive Robert Pascal, have supported Democratic tickets.

That is changing as new GOP stars such as Ms. Evans and Clerk of the Court Mary Rose, take center stage.

"They just try to label you," Mr. Wagner said. "That's not Jack Cade and Bobby Neall politics. That's a new breed. It's the vicious end of the party."

Ms. Rose, who is running for state Senate seat in District 30, which includes Annapolis, makes no apologies for aggressively promoting her party or for attacking the Democrats.

"I don't mean to attack the Democrats as a whole, but I do mean to distinguish myself from the liberal Democrats, the old-boy type Democrats," Ms. Rose said.

The growing role of the Democratic and Republican parties in county politics bemuses Robert Agee, a Democrat running for executive.

"When it comes down to this level, I don't think there is a terribly partisan way of picking up trash," he said.

Maybe, maybe not, said Mrs. Fister, who notes that the Democrats have long denied the Republicans leadership roles in the County Council and the State House.

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