Eastern Shore voters want concerns heard Farmers: Many across the bay see a historical pattern repeating itself with politicians ignoring the Shore.

August 31, 1998|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

QUEENSTOWN -- Lean and solitary as a bearded Marlboro man, Dan Shortall stares across his fields toward the Chesapeake Bay and the Western Shore of Maryland with deep concern.

While elections often bring politicians bearing favors, Shortall and his farming neighbors believe the opposite has happened to them: Their concerns were disregarded during the Pfiesteria scare to win support among far larger voting blocs -- conservatives, consumers and the Western Shore in general.

Shortall blames Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"He relied on the public getting upset about Pfiesteria and he used it strictly for a campaign issue," Shortall said one recent afternoon. For him, the incumbent Democratic governor fell into a historical pattern.

"The Eastern Shore politically is nothing more than a playground for the rest of the state, a way to get to the beach," the 61-year-old farmer said. "Everything is strictly for the Western Shore people."

Eastern Shore farmers' resentments have been rubbed raw over the past year by the rhetoric of blame and by regulations designed to control further outbreaks of the toxic microbe that showed up last summer in several Maryland waterways.

While insisting that they would eagerly comply with sensible rules, they believe Pfiesteria was an irresistible opportunity for political figures to look decisive and strong. Vastly outnumbered in the political arithmetic, farmers had to be sacrificed, Shortall said.

But in a year when the race for governor may turn on the votes of slivers of the electorate, farmers -- though relatively small in number -- could be more important than they imagine.

Democratic in registration for the most part, Shore counties have tended to vote Republican in recent gubernatorial elections -- handing Ellen R. Sauerbrey an almost 2-to-1 majority in her 1994 race against Glendening.

The saga of the Shore as political afterthought is an old one: A state legislator offered a bill last year allowing it to secede from the rest of the state. The bill failed, but the feelings remain. The continuing Pfiesteria war could make Glendening's row even harder to hoe this year.

Recent campaign finance reports show, for example, that Frank Perdue, the chicken mogul, has shifted financial allegiances to Sauerbrey. The Perdues sent a total of $32,000 to Sauerbrey's campaign purse -- much of that, apparently, owing to unhappiness with Glendening's approach to controlling Pfiesteria.

The Shore may well be a one-issue area this year, but, like other Maryland voters, Shortall and his friends follow the news out of Washington -- President Clinton's acknowledgment of an "inappropriate" affair -- as closely as any.

"Disgraceful," Shortall called it. "Young kids shouldn't be listening to discussions of oral sex on the radio."

He and other farmers marvel at the comeback of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, now running for state comptroller -- applauding and booing him by turns.

But to many of these farmers, it's all an academic exercise. The Eastern Shore doesn't count in the big picture, Shortall said. "You can see the election returns and that's very clear: Baltimore, Prince George's and Montgomery are where the votes are."

Shortall and his neighbor, David McClyment, 58, talked while they tended a long line of barbecuing chickens on a grill at the Queen Anne's County 4-H Camp. A Ruritan picnic was planned for that evening.

Most distressing for them, perhaps, is the outsiders' view that they have been careless with the land -- that the voluntary controls they've been following aren't sufficient for the government's regulators on the other side of the Chesapeake. In the broader arena of public opinion politics, they say, they lose to wrong-headed assumptions about their stewardship.

"Every piece of ground we farm, if we do wrong with it, we have to live with it," McClyment said. "We try not to do anything wrong with that ground. I've got children who want to farm, so I'm not going to abuse anything they'll have to pay for later."

While Glendening has been praised for his handling of the outbreak, Shortall reserves a special portion of disdain for him.

When the disease was linked to nutrient-rich runoff of chicken manure, Shortall and other poultry men were first in the line of suspects because manure from their chicken houses is often sold as fertilizer. The science was not there, they charge, but they were the easiest to blame because their relatively small numbers mean they have little clout at the polls.

A Republican, Shortall again prefers Sauerbrey: "I really don't think Governor Glendening holds too much with the Eastern Shore. He doesn't need our votes. Ellen Sauerbrey needs everything she can find at this point."

Wayne Lancaster, 52, a Democrat who raises poultry and runs a seafood restaurant in Pocomoke City, agreed: "A new governor could do some things to soften the blow. A new governor might have a different view."

'Thrown to the wolves'

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