Sauerbrey should be smiling

December 21, 1997|By Barry Rascovar

CHRISTMAS CAME early for Republican Ellen Sauerbrey. Splendidly wrapped packages have been put under her tree, gifts that she can use to great advantage during the New Year.

And the funniest thing is that these gifts come from some of her most die-hard Democratic foes.

Ethics mess

First to arrive was a glorious wall-length poster, fit for framing, of state Sen. Larry Young. He looks almost angelic standing before reporters and photographers proclaiming his innocence of allegations that he mixed personal business with his public role as an elected official. He's the perfect poster child for Ms. Sauerbrey's moral crusade to root out all the rot and Democratic funny business in Annapolis.

Then a second present showed up: A certificate for continuing listening pleasure to Radio One's liberal talk shows -- courtesy of a $500,000 sweetheart state grant arranged for the radio stations by Gov. Parris Glendening and other Democratic luminaries, including two frequent participants in the Radio One gabfest, state Sen. Decatur Trotter and the aforementioned poster child, Mr. Young.

What an ideal way to get in the holiday spirit! Ms. Sauerbrey can use this political giveaway to hammer home her point it is time for a ''culture change'' in Annapolis. The stench of this deal -- Exhibit No. 2 -- could linger until Election Day.

More good cheer may be on the way early in the New Year, too. A joint ethics panel of the legislature is looking into the Young case. Yet, given state Senate President Mike Miller's tepid moves to discipline Mr. Young, it is doubtful the panel will suggest harsh punishment. Chalk that up as Exhibit No. 3.

But the coup de grace could arrive a bit later: A probe of Mr. Young by the state prosecutor's office might lead to civil or criminal charges. That would dramatically highlight Ms. Sauerbrey's case for a changing of the guard.

Indeed, if the Democrats keep bumbling and stumbling, Ms. Sauerbrey may be transformed into the Harry Hughes of 1998.

Twenty years ago, Mr. Hughes pulled off a stunning upset in the governor's race. He won because he took the moral high ground in the wake of prosecutions of a raft of Maryland officials.

''We've had enough of those who have betrayed the public trust,'' Mr. Hughes said when entering the race. He pledged ''to redeem our state from the morass of corruption. . .''

Ms. Sauerbrey could run on the same platform. She's already a hero to the anti-government crowd, though her unyielding fiscal conservatism doesn't play well among Maryland moderates and liberals. But she is above reproach and a refreshing change (like Mr. Hughes) from the cozy clique that has ruled Annapolis for decades.

The public's continuing distaste for incumbents who have lost their ethical compass may overcome the public's reluctance to trust Ms. Sauerbrey's conservative politics.

Last time, she came across too hard-edged, scaring off many undecideds. This time, her message is more alluring, less frightening. She wants to be seen as a responsible, caring fiscal conservative.

What better way to prove your fitness for office than to set high ethical standards in stark contrast to the Democratic shenanigans.

She can recite a litany of early Glendening flaps, such as the self-aggrandizing pension scandals in Prince George's County,

the $100 million deficit Mr. Glendening left for his successor there, and the mishaps of two cronies he appointed to Cabinet positions in Annapolis. Add these to the Larry Young saga and the Radio One giveaway and Ms. Sauerbrey has the potential to portray all Democrats as suspect.

That bodes ill not only for Mr. Glendening but also for Democratic legislators. ''It makes us all look bad,'' lamented one Assembly leader.

A Washington political-analysis firm has labeled Mr. Glendening the most vulnerable Democratic governor. That was before the Larry Young and Radio One developments. Pardon Ellen Sauerbrey if she can't stop smiling this Christmas Day. Santa Parris and his Democratic elves have been very, very good to her.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial-page editor of The Sun.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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