On Shore, a wary wave of support Contract with America

March 18, 1995|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Sun Staff Correspondent

SALISBURY -- Scott and Gail Anderson think the new Congress is proceeding on the right course, in the right direction and at about the right speed.

But the Republican couple fears possible cuts to Medicare. They don't favor an all-out end to affirmative action. Most of all, they worry that their party -- "like one of the characters in the Wizard of Oz," quips Ms. Anderson -- may have lost its heart.

"In the rush to the right," says Mr. Anderson, a management consultant, "I hope we don't lose track of helping people who want help."

It was here in this fast-growing Eastern Shore hub, at a retreat of House Republicans at Salisbury State University in February 1994, that the GOP "Contract with America" -- the document that helped power the GOP to victory last fall -- was conceived.

Over that snowy weekend, Republican lawmakers -- deciding they needed a device to tell voters what their party stood for -- laid out principles, based on limited government and personal responsibility, that later would evolve into the potent campaign manifesto.

A year after that Salisbury conference, interviews with several dozen Shore residents -- many of whom consider themselves moderate or "swing voters" -- suggest that voters here feel good about the overall goals of the new Republican-led Congress but are troubled by some of the specific GOP initiatives, especially -- cuts in social programs that affect the poor, the elderly, children and education.

Moreover, with the balanced budget amendment failing and a vote on term limits deferred last week, Americans of both parties are beginning to fear the return of Washington gridlock.

"In the beginning, they were doing some tremendous work," says Republican Kristen Tyvoll, a student at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., home on spring break and having lunch with her dad at an outdoor cafe in the center of downtown. "It all seems to be falling apart right now."

Many of the "Contract" items find wide support among voters in Salisbury, the Shore's most populated year-round city, and throughout the country. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 71 percent of Americans favor a balanced budget amendment; 57 percent favor ending affirmative action programs for government jobs, contracts and admissions to state universities; and 54 percent favor ending the federal food stamp program and giving the money to the states to run the programs.

"It's very maddening to stand behind someone who has food stamps and see them purchase things I don't buy because they're too expensive," says Helen Wells, a Salisbury homemaker and Republican who voted for President Clinton. "Like sickle pears out of season!"

Most of those interviewed here -- in the county seat of Wicomico County, which in 1992 voted solidly for George Bush over Mr. Clinton and Republican Ellen Sauerbrey over Democrat Parris Glendening in the 1994 governor's race -- say they also favor other key elements of the GOP "Contract."

Drawing frequent mention were provisions limiting the number of terms lawmakers can serve in Congress, welfare reform of some sort, an end to federal subsidies for the arts, and efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit. Even if legislation is not enacted, they welcome the vigorous debate on such issues.

"They're doing just what I want them to do," says Republican Dave Ziara, a hot dog vendor. "Right on!"

The concept of the "Contract with America," which promises to bring issues up for discussion within the first 100 days of this Congress, is still a big hit with Eastern Shore voters.

"The contract with the people, I like that," says John Schlachte, co-owner of Snapper's Waterfront Cafe in Cambridge. "They're saying they're going to do something and you can tell if they're doing it or not."

But Mr. Schlachte and others aren't sure they want congressional Republicans to do everything they've said they'll do, especially if it means cuts for the very young, the very old and the very poor.

Nothing seems to set off alarm bells for residents here like the GOP proposal to slow the rate of increase for the national school dTC lunch program and give the states the money to run the programs. Especially on the Eastern Shore, where there are pockets of extreme poverty, voters are dubious that the money will findits way to hungry youngsters.

Many seem to echo Democrats who portray their opponents as willing to take food from the mouths of babes to enrich the wealthy.

"A lot of kids wouldn't get a balanced meal if it wasn't for the school lunch program," says Republican Jacqueline Morehead, a vocational rehabilitation specialist currently unemployed.

And while support for welfare reform appears solid and nearly universal, some express concerns about proposals to deny benefits to unwed teen-age mothers, believing that the measure is too severe and will punish the children of those mothers.

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