Primary's Coming: How to Pick 'em?

COMMENT

September 11, 1994|By ELISE ARMACOST

So it's two days before the primary election, and you have absolutely no idea who Bob Agee is other than a name on a dark blue sign with a big red "check" mark on it. You know Ted Sophocleus ran for Anne Arundel County executive in the last election, but not much more than that. You've never heard of Larry Walker. And H. Erle Schafer -- wasn't he a state senator or a councilman or something?

It's easy, but not very fair, for journalists to scoff at the lack of knowledge with which most voters approach an election. We know a lot about these people because we're paid to know.

But how many people who spend 40-plus hours a week earning a living doing something else can interview candidates, study their position papers, listen to them speak at forums and chat with insiders willing to share their opinions? Darned few.

Getting to the point where you can walk into the voting booth and pull that lever with confidence that you really know what you're doing takes more time and effort than most ordinary citizens can afford.

So what are busy people who want to vote responsibly supposed to do?

As far as Tuesday's primary is concerned, the hour is growing a little late. The best thing voters who haven't been paying much attention until now can do is turn for advice to those who have -- this newspaper, for instance.

The Sun's editorial department (which writes opinion; the news department is not involved in the endorsement process) has spent months researching candidates for state and local elections.

Local elections, including the Anne Arundel state and county races, have received more thorough editorial treatment than ever before in The Sun. We've read these people's resumes, talked to many of them personally, questioned them on the issues, watched them operate in public.

In the end, we recommended the candidates we believed best for the job; you'll find a summary of our endorsements on the editorial page in today's "Perspective" section.

If you want more detail about why we chose whom we did in a particular race, call the paper or ask your local library to look up a copy of the complete endorsement editorial; our Anne Arundel endorsements appeared between Aug. 15 and 30.

Obviously, endorsements are a subjective exercise. Not everyone will agree with our choices, and that's fine. We don't expect to turn ardent Sophocleus supporters into Agee fans. But well-researched endorsements do lead the marginally informed

toward serious, competent candidates, and they can help voters torn between two candidates make up their minds. At the very least, they help people weed out the patently unqualified, the extremists and the loony-tunes who clutter the ballot in every election.

You might also want to scan the news pages of the last several weeks for profiles of the candidates and information about endorsements from unions, environmental groups and elected leaders whose views you respect.

Looking beyond Tuesday, voters don't have to make election preparation a full-time job to become informed enough to cast a responsible vote.

Community groups and other organizations sponsor forums and debates in every election. Go to one or two; there are few better ways to get a feel for a candidate's style, intentions and knowledge of the issues.

Most candidates for higher offices -- county executive and above -- issue position papers on education, crime, the environment, etc. Ask for copies and compare them.

Talk to your neighbors and community leaders about who they'd recommend. Heads of community associations, PTAs and the like usually have dealt with at least some candidates; they

almost always have had experience with the incumbents. They can give you an opinion about a candidate's responsiveness to constituent issues, his history of activity in the community and his voting record, if he has one.

And again, keep up with political items as they appear in the newspaper. Between now and the Nov. 8 general election, The Sun will be running profiles of state and local candidates, news stories, endorsements, columns and readers' letters. Use the paper as a tool to help develop an informed opinion. That's what it's for, after all.

*

County Executive candidate Ted Sophocleus keeps missing the point regarding his 1989 County Council vote in favor of a now-infamous pension bill for elected and appointed officials.

The bill sweetened his pension, as well as that of his wife and former legislative aide, Alice; it also lowered the age at which they could collect the pension to 50. The Sophocleus' now draw about $930 in monthly retirement checks from the county. The pension fund is now $14 million in the red and has been closed.

Mr. Sophocleus acknowledges that, from a standpoint of county finances, he made a mistake voting for the bill.

But he repeatedly points out that the $930 he and his wife get as a result of that vote is a piddling sum in the total scheme of things.

But it isn't the amount of money involved that has people upset. It's the fact that, as an elected representative, Mr. Sophocleus supported a bill that benefited him personally.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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