County residents face clear choices on key issues -- from privatizing education to taxes -- in each of Howard's three state Senate races.
The Republicans -- David P. Maier, Del. Martin G. Madden and Sen. Christopher J. McCabe -- are anti-abortion advocates, want to explore providing government vouchers for private-school education and support GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey's proposal to cut income taxes 24 percent over four years.
By contrast, the Democrats -- Edward J. Kasemeyer, Del. Virginia M. Thomas and James P. Mundy -- are abortion-rights proponents, oppose allocating public money for private education ventures.
They call Ms. Sauerbrey's proposed tax cut impractical and a threat to essential services and local jurisdictions.
The Republicans say their opponents support expanding programs and enacting laws that will enlarge an already inefficient government. In turn, the Democrats charge that the GOP candidates are long on talk about reducing spending but short on practical solutions to the state's crime, health care and education problems.
Gun control also is a source of major differences in two races. Democrats Kasemeyer and Mundy support comprehensive gun-control legislation, including licensing, while their
Republican opponents, Mr. Maier and Mr. McCabe, oppose broad measures.
But both Ms. Thomas and her opponent in senate District 13, Mr. Madden, have voted for semiautomatic weapon bans and support other gun-control measures.
The races feature one former western Howard state senator, Mr. Kasemeyer, attempting a return to politics in a new district after a 1990 election defeat and two delegates -- Mr. Madden and Ms. Thomas -- battling each other to ascend to the assembly's higher chamber.
Voter registration favors Democrats, especially in District 12, where Republicans are outnumbered by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio, and District 13, where Democrats hold a 3-to 2 edge.
But Republican leaders say they expect many cross-over votes from conservative Democrats, given the attention that Ms. Sauerbrey's tax-reduction and spending-control proposals have captured.
Redistricting has changed the political landscape significantly. District 12, formerly a Baltimore County region, now is an oddly shaped marriage of disparate areas stretching from Columbia to the Baltimore City line.
Elkridge, a conservative base of support for Mr. Madden, has been shifted out of District 13.
Here's a brief analysis of each Senate race:
District 13 (east Columbia, Highland, Fulton, North Laurel, Savage and northern Prince George's County), Democrat Thomas vs. Republican Madden:
A three-term delegate, Ms. Thomas said her record of passing health and environmental bills, working on behalf of the elderly and local communities and securing money for county projects outshines Mr. Madden's one-term record. She also criticized Mr. Madden for being among a small minority who voted against this year's domestic violence bill and last year's health care reform bill.
"I have confidence voters will decide between Madden's record and my record," said Ms. Thomas, 53, a psychiatric social worker.
Mr. Madden emphasizes his opposition to the Schaefer administration's tax increase package in 1992, which Ms. Thomas supported. He vows that he will vote against any similar measures to address projected deficits.
"I'm concerned if we close that gap by raising taxes, we'll see a wholesale loss of jobs," he said.
Ms. Thomas said she'd support tax cuts, but not if counties would be forced to raise property taxes or if public safety and education were jeopardized.
Both claim to be strong environmentalists, but the Maryland League of Conservation Voters endorsed Mr. Madden, saying he has the more consistent voting record. Although Mr. Madden, 45, an insurance agency owner, presents himself as a guardian of small-business interests, Ms. Thomas received the Howard County Business and Commerce Political Action Committee *T endorsement.
District 14 (Ellicott City, River Hill, western Howard, northeastern Montgomery County), Republican McCabe vs. Democrat Mundy:
Mr. McCabe said his view of government is fundamentally different from Mr. Mundy's.
"Everything I've seen suggests Jim Mundy believes in greater and greater authority for the state government," Mr. McCabe said.
"That's in contrast to what I see citizens wanting -- a government that provides essential services but doesn't grow larger and larger."
In turn, Mr. Mundy, 43, a Glenelg High School teacher, criticized Mr. McCabe for "creating that illusion. All Chris McCabe understands is bigger or smaller government. He doesn't understand more effective government. That's the difference."
For example, Mr. Mundy cited Mr. McCabe's vote against the 1993 health care reform bill, which was supported by all but one other senator. That legislation will help reduce Medicaid costs by allowing more uninsured employees of small companies to gain private health benefits, Mr. Mundy said.