Changing of the Guard

November 10, 1994

Time was when the Republican Party could scarcely find a candidate willing to sacrifice himself in a run for office in Anne Arundel. Today, registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans in the county by a margin of about 1.5 to 1, but Tuesday's election returns make it clear that Anne Arundel no longer is Democratic territory.

Republicans won control of the County Council for the first time since charter government was established in 1965 and continued their hold on the county executive's seat by electing John Gary over Democrat Ted Sophocleus. The GOP also took the majority of the county's House of Delegates and picked up an extra seat in the state Senate by defeating 13-year State House veteran Michael Wagner. The low-profile courthouse races left no doubt that county voters were enthusiastically marking Republican boxes on the ballot. Although most voters probably have no idea what these officials do, they nevertheless elected Republicans to the Clerk of Court, Register of Wills and the Orphans Court.

A number of factors undoubtedly contributed to the Republican sweep -- the popularity of gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey and her call for lower taxes (she captured the county, 60 percent-40 percent); anger at the Congress that permeated to the local level, and a general distrust of incumbent politicians.

Something more than anti-incumbency fervor was at work in Anne Arundel, however. What happened on Tuesday was that Reconstruction ended. Anne Arundel no longer is a rural backwater where Democrats control the white vote; it is a suburban community whose residents are drawn to the Republican message of less government and lower taxes.

Signs of this change really first started appearing a few years ago. Voters embraced Robert Neall's fiscal conservatism by electing him as executive in 1990 and went a step further in 1992 by approving a cap on property taxes and term limits for County Council members. This continued shift in political values will mean difficult choices for the county. The new leaders will have to cope with the tax cap and still grapple with the construction of a new detention center, overcrowded schools and a landfill nearing the end of its use. Residents need to be prepared for painful changes ahead.

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