Gubernatorial candidates debate for GOP votes CAMPAIGN 1994

September 01, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

The three Republican candidates for governor touted their programs and exchanged occasional barbs last night as they panned for votes in Montgomery County.

U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the minority leader of the Maryland House, and retired diplomat William S. Shepard, the party's 1990 standard-bearer, sought to reinforce themes sounded throughout the campaign in a 90-minute debate sponsored by the Maryland Republican Party at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Montgomery County, the state's most populous major subdivision, is a mother lode of Republican votes, representing about a quarter of the GOP statewide total.

Mrs. Bentley, as she has throughout the campaign, portrayed herself as the candidate most able to wrest the State House from the Democrats for the first time since 1966, when Spiro T. Agnew was elected governor.

"After all, isn't winning the election what this campaign is all about?" she asked the audience of about 200, mostly partisans of the candidates.

Mrs. Sauerbrey, who has been gaining ground in the polls, continued her efforts to paint Mrs. Bentley, the frontrunner, as a carbon copy of the incumbent Democratic governor, William Donald Schaefer, who encouraged the Baltimore County congresswoman to enter the race.

"I am not Governor Schaefer's favorite candidate," said Mrs. Sauerbrey. "I'm his worst nightmare."

A 16-year veteran of the House, Mrs. Sauerbrey asserted that as the only candidate with state government experience, she had the determination and the expertise to guide Maryland through tough fiscal times while making good on her campaign pledge to cut individual income taxes by 24 percent over four years.

"I don't need on-the-job training," she said. "I'm ready to hit the ground running."

In response to a question, Mrs. Bentley, who is a friend of Mr. Schaefer, was pressed to say what she doesn't like about him. She said "raising taxes and the spending has been wrong. I wouldn't go along with that." But she also said he "had done some good things."

Mr. Shepard, who resides in Potomac, played on local sentiment in his pitch for votes, especially Montgomery's traditional complaints that it is the perennial loser when state tax dollars are distributed.

"We're sitting here in Montgomery County, my county, which is the largest jurisdiction in Maryland, and yet we have never elected a governor," he said. "Our interests are not protected in Annapolis now."

Mr. Shepard also scolded Mrs. Sauerbrey for voting two years ago, in the midst of Maryland's recession-driven fiscal crisis, to end the $170 million state program which paid the employers' share of Social Security for teachers, librarians and community college workers, which cost Montgomery an annual $28 million subsidy.

Mrs. Sauerbrey explained following the debate that the vote had been "a Hobson's choice, not my choice." The alternative, she said, was to cut school bus transportation money, which she viewed as "the lesser of two evils."

Mrs. Sauerbrey and Mr. Shepard have both complained that Mrs. Bentley had skipped more than 40 debates and forums in waging a frontrunner's campaign. Mrs. Sauerbrey ascribed the congresswoman's appearance last night in part to the latest polls.

"I'm in striking distance, according to the polls, which probably gave her more incentive," Mrs. Sauerbrey said.

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