Voters agree on one thing ---- change

November 10, 1994|By Frank A. DeFilippo

REGARDLESS OF who's declared the next governor of Maryland after the absentee ballots are counted, on Tuesday voters changed the way the business of politics will be conducted in the State House for years.

The voters increased the Republican delegation to the General Assembly, but it remains comfortably in Democratic control. They booted out long-time incumbents and installed upstart challengers.

With the double-edged will of the voters behind them, the GOP minority can now force a Democratic governor and the General Assembly to make tough choices just as Republican Ellen Sauerbrey backed Democrat Parris Glendening against the fence on the economic issues during the campaign.

With either candidate as governor comes a new look, a new attitude, a new geographic shift and a new top layer of government. The winner will begin the systematic dismantling of the house that Gov. William Donald Schaefer built and reassemble the pieces into a leaner, meaner government machine.

Though he outspent Mrs. Sauerbrey nearly 3-1, Mr. Glendening was unable to defeat her flat out or muffle her strident message. It was a telegraphy of money and manners that warns Democrats to tidy up their high-flying ways or face the Republican public relations grinder and the angry voice of the people.

With the warning comes a new and heady attitude. Bolstered by Mrs. Sauerbrey's dramatic campaign and strong showing, Republicans in the General Assembly are forearmed to muscle up to the majority Democrats on virtually every issue of economic importance.

Even in the iron grip of a numerical standoff, Ellen Sauerbrey managed, with an unwavering one-note theme, to set the tone as well as the tactic of the campaign in the eight weeks between the primary and the general election. And that, by indirection, sent a strong and very clear airborne message to Democrats across the state.

The steel magnolia of the Republican right had liberal Democrat Parris Glendening wiggling and writhing over her seductive proposal of income tax cuts and budget reductions. He, by comparison, remained fuzzy and never really found his voice, relying instead on TV ads to undermine Mrs. Sauerbrey's message.

In issuing a spread of only 6,000 votes between the two (not counting absentee ballots), half the voters seemed to be saying they liked the idea of tax cuts, but the other half could not accept the sacrifices that would accompany the budget reductions. Yesterday, Mrs. Sauerbrey appeared to have suffered the death of a thousand cuts inflicted by Mr. Glendening's stiletto-sharp attack ads but nonetheless survived to challenge him once again in the countdown of absentee ballots.

In defining the centerpiece of the campaign's discourse, Mrs. Sauerbrey forced Mr. Glendening to dance around the rim of the dish and ultimately to distance himself from the many extravagant promises he had made to special interests in exchange for endorsements. Because of the back down, his proffers, if he wins, may now be no more than a generous !B bequest in a pauper's will.

The election playground was by no means level. But Mrs. Sauerbrey's silver-bullet message -- and the addition of so many Republican lawmakers in a state where they're outnumbered 2-1 -- is a wake-up gong for somnolent Democrats. Maryland moved toward becoming (almost) a two-party state just as the nation took a sharp right turn.

dTC Locally, Mr. Glendening was viewed as a life preserver for the city of Baltimore where he predictably won by more than a 3-1 margin with last-minute appeals and a higher voter turnout than expected. Mayor Kurt Schmoke has been rooting for a Glendening victory because the city would fare better under the Democrat than it would under the punishing economic policies of Mrs. Sauerbrey's school vouchers, welfare limits and evaporated state aid.

Mr. Glendening's uncertain future is a potential omen of apocalypse for Mr. Schmoke and his spiritual adviser, lawyer Larry Gibson, who could benefit not only from the rewards of programs and patronage but also, perhaps, some government business.

A Glendening victory would also spill over into next year's campaign for mayor. Mr. Glendening would be in a position to reward Mr. Schmoke with programs and policies that would benefit him and the city in his campaign against city council president Mary Pat Clarke.

Mr. Glendening squeezed out a numerical dead heat despite a string of negatives that trailed him as a dog with tin cans tied to its tail. Mr. Glendening was viewed with suspicion by Baltimore-area voters. He is distrusted by many politicians, including a number he might have to work with in the General Assembly. He sported the tag of a tax-and-spend liberal despite his television attempt to remake himself into a "mainstream moderate." His choice of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as lieutenant governor was greeted with a Bronx cheer. And his $300 million in campaign promises were seen as warmed-over Schaefer.

So what was supposed to be a victory celebration has become an Excedrin headache of two sleepless nights and a day of suspense. Only in Maryland.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.

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