Cade: a kind of politician we could use more of


November 24, 1996|By Brian Sullam

JOHN A. CADE'S untimely death is a loss for those who believe in a thoughtful and compassionate approach to politics and government service.

His death 10 days agoended more than three decades of public service that benefited more than just the residents of Anne Arundel County's 33rd District. His legislative contributions will have a positive effect on all state residents for years to come.

Although Mr. Cade had a reputation for withering inquisitions of government bureaucrats and industry lobbyists, the late state senator understood his responsibility to promote the general good.

To him, that meant eliminating government programs that didn't accomplish their intended goals and enacting programs that enhanced the general well-being of society. He was not a sentimental man, but he understood that one job of government is to give a helping hand to the less fortunate.

He pushed hard for education programs such as state aid for community colleges and for social programs that allowed poor people to obtain job training to better themselves and their families.

His question was always the same: How do we get the biggest bang for the buck? Sometimes, the answer was to cut taxes. Other times, it might mean financing a new government program.

A fading conservatism?

Unfortunately, Mr. Cade's brand of conservatism seems in danger of disappearing.

All too often, denigrating government is conservative dogma. Government, regardless of whether the level is federal, state, county or municipal, is at the root of all problems, goes this analysis.

Mr. Cade did not like blanket condemnations against government. He understood that in our type of democracy, people have the ability to create change it if they can convince a majority to go along with them.

Over three decades ago, Mr. Cade got fed up with Anne Arundel's increasingly unresponsive and ineffective eight-commissioner county government.

Instead of merely bellyaching about the state of affairs, Mr. Cade joined up with some unlikely allies to gain charter government.

Even though he was a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic county, he located some reformers in the Democratic Party who were also interested in bringing charter government to Anne Arundel.

The political bug

After two years of stumping around from Linthicum to Edgewater on behalf of the charter idea, Mr. Cade and his allies prevailed. The county adopted charter government in 1964. And Mr. Cade had caught the political bug.

That same year, Mr. Cade joined the "Charter Ticket," a bipartisan slate of reformers who ran against the old commissioners for seats on the newly created County Council.

He won his first elective office, and he never forgot the importance of forging bipartisan alliances.

Mr. Cade knew that legislation does not get enacted by posturing. Yet at present, an increasing number of lawmakers prefer to follow a strategy of staking out positions and proclaiming they will not retreat from them.

Compromise is not part of their lexicon. In a legislative body where the majority rules, refusing to budge for ideological reasons is a prescription for inaction, at best, and failure, at worst.

For Mr. Cade, such behavior was incomprehensible. Occupying public office meant you were supposed to enact public policy.

Need boots first

Mr. Cade also believed that people were capable of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, but he also understood they needed boots first.

Much to the chagrin of other Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly, Mr. Cade usually followed his conscience rather than party ideology. As a result, he was instrumental in drafting the state's landmark forest conservation bill and saw that Baltimore's light rail system received state funding -- neither of which was high on state Republicans' list of priorities.

As much as Mr. Cade wanted to hold down government spending and labored mightily each session to balance the state budget, he never advocated the wholesale evisceration of programs designed to benefit Maryland's disadvantaged. Too often, the prescription for reducing government spending is the same: Slash social and educational programs.

Picking on the weak

Picking on the weak was something Mr. Cade never did. Despite a reputation for intimidating interrogatories, the 300-pound ex-Marine never employed his threatening persona when questioning the housewife, welfare recipient or child who testified before his committees.

He preferred to pick on people of equal stature -- college presidents, well-paid lobbyists, self-important experts and officious bureaucrats.

One can only hope that other lawmakers who saw Mr. Cade in action would follow his example.

All of us would be a lot better off.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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