Feaga's Rise in Howard

November 24, 1994

Like his namesake, Charles Columbus Feaga knows about sailing into uncharted waters and a life without recognition.

For eight years, he has toiled in relative obscurity on the Howard County Council as a minority member, overshadowed by Democrats who rarely, if ever, shared power. Now, having won his third term, Mr. Feaga finds himself in the majority and assuming a leadership role at age 62. He is about to become council chairman, the first Republican to do so in Howard County's history.

It is interesting to contrast Mr. Feaga to another Republican on the rise, but on the national level: Newt Gingrich, the firebrand Georgia conservative set to become Speaker of the House of Representatives. For Mr. Feaga, there is none of the mean-spiritedness apparently born of years of frustration. Mr. Feaga's reaction to his rise to prominence is like that of a poor man who wakes up in the king's bed chamber. There is no 10-point agenda, no scores to settle, only a sort of delighted surprise at his own good fortune.

This is not to say that Mr. Feaga lacks convictions. Despite his previous years of minority status on the Howard council, he fashioned a constructive record by pushing farming legislation and by joining the Democrats on other critical measures.

A lifelong cattleman in western Howard County, Mr. Feaga has been critical of the revamping of the county's farm preservation program so that larger, more expensive parcels could be purchased. He opposed a zoning law that would have allowed only one house per 20 acres in his district, which he felt would have stolen farmers' development rights and ultimately their life savings.

On a matter of broader appeal, Mr. Feaga was the author of the county's landmark bicycle helmet law for children. He also supported measures to increase affordable housing and ban smoking in county malls, though he opposed a ban for all public buildings.

A fiscal conservative, he is nonetheless a pragmatist. Three times he sponsored legislation that resulted in a 5 percent cap on assessment increases. State law allowed the cap to be set as high as 10 percent. This middle-of-the-road approach on finances should prove an asset as he grapples with the county's most pressing problem. Officials are already lamenting anemic revenue growth. As he assumes power and confronts these problems, it is Mr. Feaga's integrity and common sense that impresses us. We wish him well.

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