A talk with the Republican candidates for governor Conservative Ellen R. Sauerbrey and moderate Charles I. Ecker offer voters contrasting views on the issues affecting Maryland.

August 16, 1998|By Craig Timberg

Many pundits have written off the Sept. 15 primary election now that Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann has dropped out of the race. But on the Republican side, voters face a remarkably sharp contrast in the primary battle between Charles I. Ecker and Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Ecker, 69, is a plain-spoken moderate, a two-term executive of Howard County and former schools official.

Local term limits require that he leave office in December, but he has won praise from leaders of both parties for his skill in leading Howard through the recession of the early 1990s. The prosperous county now has strong job growth, a stable tax rate and a triple-A bond rating.

Just a few years ago, a candidate with such a resume might have been crowned the GOP nominee for governor. But Sauerbrey, 60, is coming off her near-miss loss in 1994, when she came within 6,000 votes of being the first Republican elected governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew in 1966.

That, combined with a clear, conservative speaking style, has given Sauerbrey a strong lead in the polls - though some moderate leaders question whether in a general election she can beat Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democratic incumbent in a Democratic state.

Sauerbrey came up through politics as a state legislator from Baltimore County. She eventually became Republican leader in the House of Delegates, leading a small band of GOP legislators in their battles against the Democrats who run the State House.

Many Democrats still criticize her for combativeness in those years, but fellow Republican leaders credit her with providing the ideological clarity that helped fuel the party's growth this decade.

Many national Republican leaders, such as New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, millionaire presidential candidate Steve Forbes and Iran-contra figure Oliver L. North, have come to Maryland to help Sauerbrey raise money.

Such leaders see Sauerbrey as the party's best chance to win the governorship. Ecker, who entered politics in 1990 with an underdog victory over a powerful incumbent, hopes to repeat history and stand in her way.

Both candidates were recently interviewed by Craig Timberg, a reporter covering the governor's race for The Sun.

Next week, we profile the Democrats.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey

Why should Maryland voters elect you governor?

Because Maryland needs someone who has independence, integrity and puts the good of state ahead of their own personal goals. And because the things that I care passionately about, which are economic development opportunities for citizens, good jobs and effective education that teaches children how to read and prepares them for those good jobs when they come out of school and allows citizens to live in safe communities, are all things that I believe people are seeking, and that I am committed to, and will do a better job of delivering than the policies of the past.

What are the three most important things you would do as governor?

In the field of education, my emphasis is on true reforms. Things that I would focus on would be putting the money that we are spending on education into the classrooms ... assessing children throughout their school development but particularly as they enter school, early assessment to ensure that we detect early children who have learning disabilities and reading problems, focusing on a structured phonics-based Calvert School-type of curriculum in our elementary schools, dealing in a meaningful way with disruptive students that are making it hard for other children to learn, and part of that is ending social promotion which is pushing unprepared kids up through grade levels to the point that they become frustrated and disruptive but also focusing more heavily to make sure we are preparing kids for the jobs that are out there. Every child is not going to go to college, and our primary and secondary education really needs to be providing more opportunities for technical and vocational skills that are much needed in the work force. In the field of public safety, the power of the governor to appoint judges who are going to be fair but tough on violent offenders, abolishing parole for violent offenders, reforming the juvenile justice system and focusing very heavily on effective drug treatments are my major goals. In the area of economic development, the third major issue, I remain committed to lowering the tax and regulatory burden and on providing a sound, pro-business environment that will attract a variety of different kinds of businesses to come to Maryland.

How do you pay for these things?

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