Stakes rising in Md. election Democrat, GOP goals for funding show new level of partisanship

October 30, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Determined to maintain their grip on power in Annapolis, Democratic leaders of the Maryland Senate have launched an unprecedented $1 million fund-raising drive to help Senate candidates next year, with solicitations going to business leaders and State House lobbyists.

Republicans, meanwhile, have launched a less ambitious fund-raising effort to help legislative candidates. The House-Senate GOP caucus expects to have about $100,000 by next fall, when all 188 seats in the General Assembly will be up for election.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he has no plans for a new campaign committee but said he will give generously from his own account to support Democratic House candidates facing tough races next year.

The aggressive fund raising in Assembly races represents a new brand of partisanship in a state where Democrats have maintained control of the legislature for decades but have watched warily as the Republican Party has gained strength and numbers in recent years.

"In our state, we've never seen this type of partisan politics before," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is leading the Democratic fund-raising effort. "I've seen that partisanship in other states, but we've managed to avoid it in Maryland."

In the 1994 election, in which Republicans swamped Democrats in races from coast to coast, the Maryland GOP saw its numbers in the 141-member House of Delegates climb from 25 to 41. In the state Senate, Republican representation went from nine to 15, nine short of a majority in the 47-member body.

GOP leaders say it will be hard to repeat those kinds of gains in the election next year in what remains a predominantly Democratic state.

But observers from both parties said Republicans could pick up a few seats in the Senate and as many as 10 in the House of Delegates.

While that would leave Democrats with comfortable majorities in both chambers, such a large Republican presence would certainly cause problems for the Democratic leadership.

"The goal is to give this state an honest, strong two-party system," said Joyce Lyons Terhes, who chairs the Maryland Republican Party.

Miller and other Senate Democrats this month created a campaign fund-raising apparatus, the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee.

The group hopes to raise $1 million, money that would be spent to help Democrats -- incumbents and, in some cases, challengers to incumbent Republicans.

During a breakfast at a Baltimore hotel yesterday, Miller and other Senate leaders asked for financial support in the election and distributed tickets to a $500-a-person fund-raiser in December.

Among those attending were prominent business leaders and several State House lobbyists who routinely deal with the senators on legislative matters.

"I think it's an effort not to take anything for granted," said Bruce C. Bereano, an Annapolis lobbyist who attended.

While lobbyists are prohibited from raising money for legislative candidates in Maryland, they are allowed to purchase tickets to political events. Lobbyists at yesterday's breakfast were given two tickets to buy, while others were handed more.

The list of business people attending included bakery owner John S. Paterakis Sr., banker H. Furlong Baldwin, contractor Willard Hackerman, racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis and developer Otis Warren.

Miller has said he will contribute $150,000 to the effort from his campaign account. Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, will contribute some $75,000, and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman of Baltimore, who heads the Senate budget committee, will chip in $50,000, according to people familiar with the group's plans.

The Senate Democrats plan to hire a pollster and political operatives to help candidates, Hoffman said.

Miller said the fund-raising push was a response to increasingly partisan attacks from Maryland Republicans.

He seemed particularly annoyed by a rhetorically charged letter Terhes sent in the summer to thousands of registered Democrats that accompanied a form they could use to switch their party affiliation to the GOP.

State Democratic Party Chairman Peter B. Krauser took the unusual step of sending Terhes a letter accusing her of using "unnecessarily shrill rhetoric that alienates citizens from the electoral process."

Terhes said she expects Democrats will be able to raise more money for the Assembly races.

"Before, they ignored us," Terhes said. "I think they're seeing the handwriting on the wall."

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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