Candidates for legislature launch attacks at forum

Private school funding is a divisive issue


Carroll's General Assembly candidates started showing frayed edges lasy night in the last political forum before Tuesday's primary election

Saprks at the Westminster forum sponsored by the county's League of Women Voters erupted at the start and continued throughout the 80-minute event.

Republican W. David Blair of Manchester got things started by using his 90-second opening statement to criticize a mailing by Westminster Republican Carmen Armedori Blair said the mailing misrepresented his views on a charter government initiative defeated by voters in May.

Armedori, whom he had "considered a friend," should base her campaign "on issues, not misrepresentation," Blair said.

A league spokeswoman told the candidates it was against the rules to make personal attacks at league-sponsored events Armedori did not respond to Blair's charges.

But incumbent state Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Taylorsville Republican, bristled when Democrat George H. Littrell Jr. of Frederick told the audience of about 70 that Ferguson "got a zero" on the environment during his four-year term in the Senate and that he had voted against mandatory sentences for people who use handguns to commit crimes.

Ferguson said that when he defeated Littrell in the general election four years ago, he "kept the campaign as clean as possible," but that "when opponents have no issues, they take the low road."

The 11 candidates who participated in the forum also differed on whether the state should help fund private education.

Most of the nine Republican candidates said that it should, but they wanted it to be done with tax credits given to parents rather than grants to educational institutions.

Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, a Westminster Republican, said she plans to introduce a bill in the next session that would do exactly that. She wants the credits to go to parents, Stocksdale said, so that funding doesn't become a church-state issue.

The two Democrats present - Littrell and Del. Ellen Willis Miller of Westminster - were opposed to the idea.

"The public school system is one of our most valuable resources," Miller said. "I am opposed to public funding" for private schools.

Littrell, who was a pnncipal at four public schools, said "public education needs to be reformed, but private schools would not remain private very long if they receive public money."

County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown of Westminster, a Republican who is running for one of three House of Delegates seats, also objected to spending public money on private schools - even though he attended parochial schools as a child.

"In my four years' experience as a county commissioner, I learned that the state of Maryland is extremely intrusive," Brown said. "I'm not sure that it is in anybody's interest to pull money away from public schools."

Republican Del. Donald B. Elliott of Westminster, a three-term incumbent, said he was taking "a more moderate" position. "I would support [tax credits for private schools] where the public schools have failed to achieve acceptable standards," he said.

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