Sarbanes vs. Brock: deep-rooted differences

October 26, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's U.S. Senate race has descended into a contest of 15- and 30-second television commercials with each candidate implying that the other is a carpetbagger or soft on crime. But behind the calculated media campaign lies a choice between two thoughtful, respected politicians with strong disagreements on some of the major issues of the day.

Incumbent Paul S. Sarbanes is an unrepentant liberal Democrat and a strong defender of social programs. Challenger Bill Brock, a one-time Southern conservative and opponent of civil rights legislation, says he has evolved into a moderate Republican reformer.

While fellow liberals such as Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo are struggling to keep their jobs, Mr. Sarbanes appears to be defying this year's conventional wisdom that entrenched Democrats are an endangered species. A poll released last week showed him with a 25-point lead over his opponent.

Mr. Sarbanes and Mr. Brock take distinctly different approaches to such topical issues as term limits and welfare reform. On three of the major bills passed in the past two years -- the Clinton deficit reduction package, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the crime bill -- they would have voted differently.

Mr. Sarbanes opposes term limits, offers few specifics on welfare reform and voted against NAFTA. Mr. Brock calls for "drastic" change in the welfare system, thinks the Clinton deficit reduction package will only slow the economic recovery and says the crime bill wasn't tough enough.

Although they agree on some points -- a woman's right to an abortion and a ban on assault weapons -- many of their differences appear rooted in their disparate backgrounds.

Mr. Brock grew up as a multimillionaire heir to a candy company that he helped run before becoming a congressman and U.S. senator from Tennessee and later a Cabinet member in the Reagan administration. A supporter of supply-side economics and an avid free trader, he preaches limited government and the virtues of market competition.

The son of Greek immigrants from Salisbury, Paul Spyros Sarbanes went to Princeton, Harvard and Oxford on financial aid and scholarship. He is a great admirer of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and deeply values government's roles as a safety net and defender of the disadvantaged. Perhaps because of that -- as well as his legendary political caution -- he speaks only vaguely about reforming a welfare system that many want to overhaul.

In June, President Clinton laid out a reform plan that included a two-year limit on cash benefits for single parents 18 and older. He also recommended allowing states to cap benefits for women who have additional children while receiving assistance.

When asked for his position on those measures recently, Mr. Sarbanes appeared to know little about them. "I'm in favor of moving people off of welfare and onto work, but how you do it is a very complicated process," he said. "That's the issue we're going to deal with in the next Congress."

A former U.S. secretary of labor, Mr. Brock has very specific ideas about welfare reform, which include removing people from the rolls after 30 or 60 days and putting them to work for local governments. He supports allowing states to cap benefits

for women who have more children, as well as other measures.

Having worked to promote international commerce as U.S. trade representative, Mr. Brock supported NAFTA, which lowered trade barriers with Mexico and Canada. Mr. Sarbanes -- who receives large campaign contributions from organized labor -- voted against the agreement last year. He said he feared that it would encourage U.S. companies to move manufacturing plants Mexico, taking jobs with them.

Mr. Brock followed the NAFTA debate closely -- his former consulting company, the Brock Group, received more than $1 million to advise Mexico on the trade agreement. He saw NAFTA as a job producer. To prove his point, he cited recent U.S. Department of Commerce figures that show an increase of at least 10 percent in exports to both countries.

Mr. Sarbanes countered that the new exports to Mexico may include equipment to open factories that can take advantage of

cheap labor.

Term limits

Together, the two candidates have a combined 38 years of experience in Congress, but disagree on how to reform an institution that many hold in low esteem.

Mr. Brock -- who served 14 years in Congress -- supports term limits to help infuse Capitol Hill with new blood. He said too many legislators put power and re-election before principle. At 63, he pledges to stay no longer than two terms. "I don't have to worry about re-election," he said. "I can go in there for one term and just raise Cain, get the job done and let somebody else have it."

Mr. Sarbanes, who has spent the past 24 years on Capitol Hill, sees term limits as an anti-Democratic gimmick. At 61, he gives no indications of retiring.

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