Senate races offer personal and partisan battles

September 19, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writer

One is a personal grudge match. The other is a battle drawn along party lines in a district where party lines often blur.

Both races were set up when Republican voters nominated Mary M. Rose and C. Edward Middlebrooks last week for the state Senate in districts 30 and 32.

Mrs. Rose, clerk of the Circuit Court, and Mr. Middlebrooks, a County Councilman from Glen Burnie, face established Democrats who ran unopposed in their primaries.

Mrs. Rose is a former chairwoman of the county's Republican Central Committee who, in 1990, surprised former clerk of the court H. Erle Schafer with her electoral prowess.

She will battle state Del. John Astle, a three-term lawmaker and former Marine who has been the top voter getter in District 30 in the last two elections. The district includes Annapolis, Lower Broadneck and Shady Side.

The seat became vacant after state Sen. Gerald Winegrad announced last year that he would retire from public office.

Since her announcement last winter, Mrs. Rose has taken aim not just at Mr. Astle, but the whole Democratic Party, offering herself and the GOP as the solution to crime and government inefficiency. He has responded by touting his war record; his support for Maryland's rescue helicopters, a program known as MedEvac; and his fiscal conservatism.

Mrs. Rose charges Mr. Astle with being "intellectually dishonest" by selling himself as a conservative and a Democrat.

"He can't be a Democrat one day and the Republican the next," said Mrs. Rose, a former deputy undersecretary of education during the Reagan administration. "He should have been intellectually honest enough to switch parties and run against me in the Republican primary if that's what he wanted to be."

In District 32, Mr. Middlebrooks is a former member of the Democratic Central Committee who switched parties last spring campaign against incumbent Michael J. Wagner. That district includes Linthicum, Glen Burnie and Severn.

It's Mr. Wagner's first opposition since he defeated Victor Sulin in the primary in 1982. Mr. Middlebrooks is the only Republican opponent he has faced.

"This is a personal grudge match as far as I can see," said one GOP insider. "These two guys are going to keep pummeling each other in the face until Nov. 8. These guys are going to look pretty ugly before it's over."

The two have never quite seen eye to eye. Mr. Middlebrooks got his introduction to politics campaigning in 1978 for Mr. Schafer, who unseated Mr. Wagner from the Senate that year. Mr. Wagner reclaimed the seat in 1982.

More recently, Mr. Wagner recruited a prominent Glen Burnie businessman to challenge Mr. Middlebrooks for the council seat. The senator said he did it because Mr. Middlebrooks publicly embarrassed another member of his ticket, Councilman George Bachman, over the renovation of Andover Middle School.

In turn, Mr. Middlebrooks switched parties and announced his bid for Mr. Wagner's seat.

"I don't think I was 100 percent surprised" by the change in affiliation, said Gilda Atas, former chairwoman of the Democratic Central Committee. "I think Ed wants to move up the political ladder and Wagner was blocking him."

Mr. Middlebrooks said Thursday that he planned to contrast himself with the senator over the proposed Glen Burnie jail, term limits, the Central Light Rail Line and the Redskins' proposed stadium in Laurel.

Mr. Middlebrooks has opposed the jail, favors a two-term limit for senators, opposes extension of light rail through Glen Burnie and opposes public financing of stadium improvements.

Mr. Wagner denied he supports public financing of the Laurel stadium. Nor, he said, does he favor building a jail in Glen Burnie, though he voted for state financing of the $27 million jail planned by County Executive Robert R. Neall.

"I didn't vote for putting a jail any place," Mr. Wagner said. "I voted for the financing of it. The council decided where to put it.

"I clearly favor a jail," said Mr. Wagner. "Meanwhile, he's running around telling people he wants to get criminals off the street but he doesn't want a jail."

Mrs. Rose said she will compare her record as the clerk of the court during the past four years with Mr. Astle's legislative career. She boasted that she reduced backlogs in processing of civil and criminal files and land records, saved the state $1.3 million over four years, and computerized file-tracking systems.

"My track record is clear," Mrs. Rose said. "He has nothing to go back on except his war record. That was two decades ago. I'm here, now, ready to serve."

Mr. Astle countered that he has proved his leadership, serving as chairman of the county's 13-member House delegation and vice chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee on law enforcement and transportation.

Mr. Astle, noting that Mrs. Rose had once questioned his political courage, said he lost the vice chairmanship when he voted against a 1992 tax increase and gave up the delegation chairmanship when, as a colonel in the Marine Reserves, he volunteered to participate in Operation Desert Storm.

"I think it's interesting that she's playing on leadership as an issue," Mr. Astle said. "She's playing to my strength."

Mr. Astle said he will make an issue of Mrs. Rose's "view of the world." Mrs. Rose personally opposes abortion rights, though she has not raised the issue in this campaign, and was part of a socially conservative wing of the GOP that took control of the state party briefly during the 1980s.

"I tend to be fiscally conservative but a little more progressive on some of the social issues," he said.

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