Sauerbrey stands fast has Maryland moved? CAMPAIGN 1994 -- THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR

October 27, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

Either Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey is swimming against the current of public opinion or she has caught the edge of a changing political tide that is about to sweep Maryland in a completely new direction.

Whatever voters decide, her up-from-nowhere campaign for governor has been a relentless, bruising attack on the philosophical underpinnings of government that Marylanders have embraced for decades.

A victory by Mrs. Sauerbrey on Nov. 8 would make her Maryland's first Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew won in 1966, and its first woman governor ever.

More importantly, it would shift control over the purse strings of Maryland's $13.5 billion budget from liberal and moderate Democrats into the hands of a staunch conservative.

Decision-making would pass from governors who, for 26 years, have been rooted in Baltimore and transfixed by urban needs to one whose outlook is suburban.

There is no question the 57-year-old delegate from Baltimore County represents change. The question is whether the changes she has pushed with so little success in the legislature for 16 years are suddenly in sync with the thinking of most Marylanders. "She represents such a radical departure from the status quo that if you're really unhappy, Sauerbrey is a natural," said James Gimpel, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park. "But I'm not sure people are that unhappy."

Her Democratic opponent, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, paints her as a right-wing extremist, especially for her opposition to gun control and abortion rights for women. Her policies, he says, are out of the main- stream.

Mrs. Sauerbrey attacks the fundamental New Deal belief that government can and should attempt to solve society's problems. She is convinced Marylanders want to return to a simpler time when government was not on their backs, not in their pocketbooks, not telling them how to run their businesses or lives.

"I want you to wake up the day after I'm elected knowing the fruits of your labors are yours," she says at stops along the campaign trail, where she has steadily evolved from a timid but unwavering champion of the smaller-is-better style of government into one of its most confident and forceful advocates.

"Maryland is not the Maryland of 20 years ago," she says instructively, sounding like the high school science teacher she once was. "Today, the minds and hearts of people are moving in our direction."

She has struck a chord with voters like Wayne D. Albrecht, a 55-year-old lawyer and retired Social Security administrator from Howard County. Mr. Albrecht has plastered his pickup truck with "Sauerbrey for Governor" signs and has driven it 7,000 miles through 19 counties to spread the word.

"I just think the woman represents integrity," he said. "She has a consistent, clear record. She doesn't change her story. She has a value system that I think needs to underlie our society. And she has the will and energy and determination to do what she says she's going to do."

An unabashed admirer of Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Sauerbrey's economic policies mirror his. She wants to reduce the tax burden Maryland citizens and businesses as a means of stimulating the economy and creating jobs. She wants to shrink the state work force and limit the scope of what government does.

But, just as President Reagan shifted federal responsibilities and costs to the states, so Mrs. Sauerbrey's critics predict she will shift state responsibilities and costs to Maryland's counties and cities.

The centerpiece of her campaign has been a pledge to reduce state income taxes by 24 percent over the next four years. That would translate into an annual revenue loss of $800 million by the fourth year and a cumulative loss of $2 billion over the four-year term.

If fully implemented by 1999, the tax cut would give a family of four earning $50,000 a year an estimated $10.81 a week extra to spend.

Tough on crime

Like other candidates for office this election year, Mrs. Sauerbrey also has outlined a get-tough-on-crime program that would eliminate parole for violent offenders and require inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences (up from a 50 percent requirement approved by the legislature just this year).

She would revolutionize education in Maryland through a series of controversial proposals to encourage competition between schools. Over the vehement objection of the state teachers union and others, she wants to give parents who send their children to private schools a taxpayer-funded voucher to help with the cost, and to empower parents unhappy with their community school to set up a school of their own.

She also wants to capitalize on growing public impatience with welfare by limiting payments to two years and by refusing to extend benefits to children born to mothers already on welfare. Democrats William Donald Schaefer and Bill Clinton basically agree with her on these points.

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