In race for governor, a clear choice, again

September 20, 1998|By Barry Rascovar

THEY ARE bookends on the political spectrum, exemplars of their respective party's ideologies -- Parris Glendening on the liberal left, Ellen Sauerbrey on the conservative right.

They clashed four years ago -- and finished in nearly a dead heat. Rematch time is here. Showdown at the OK Corral. Return of the Jedi. Yin vs. yang.

They don't have much respect for each other: They are diametric opposites on most everything.

Now that the preliminaries are over -- Mr. Glendening won the Democratic primary with more than 70 percent of the vote, Ms. Sauerbrey gained 81 percent of the Republican primary vote -- it could get tense. And nasty.

A matter of trust

Which candidate better represents Marylanders views on key social issues? Which candidate do they trust to run the state?

The two have radically different views of government.

A second Glendening term would continue his efforts to extend social programs to the poor and the young. He wants to revive his earlier free-tuition plan for all college-age students and expand free health care to more middle-class families.

Mr. Glendening sees government as a force for good. He is especially committed to improving education, as he made clear on election night. That would include steps to bolster academics at the University of Maryland's flagship College Park campus, where he once taught political science.

It might not be exciting. Incremental progress would remain the Glendening style. But it would be a predictable style.

Not so in a Sauerbrey administration. Her victory would signal the start of a Republican revolution here. For the first time in 32 years, the GOP would control this state's most powerful office.

Conservatives would be named to the judiciary and key regulatory bodies such as the Public Service Commission and the State Board of Education. A conservative Cabinet would run government activities with a business-oriented style. Red tape and regulations would be trimmed to the bone.

First on the Sauerbrey agenda would be tax cuts, supported in the first year by the state's big surplus. She firmly believes this would spur economic growth.

In later years, dramatically lower taxes would require dramatic cuts in state programs. Ms. Sauerbrey has longed for such an opportunity. The Calvert Institute, a thinly veiled arm of the Sauerbrey campaign, has published a 75-page report filled with ways to slash state government.

There would be wholesale consolidation of departments and agencies. A zero-based budgeting approach would force bureaucrats to justify their existence.

Ms. Sauerbrey -- despite her moderating tone of recent months -- promises to give Maryland government the most radical transformation in half a century.

Thousands of longtime state managers would depart -- replaced by Republicans with determined conservative agendas but little Annapolis experience.

Governor's privilege

Maryland's constitution grants the governor enormous budgetary powers. Ms. Sauerbrey knows she could cut deeply into existing programs without worrying about General Assembly interference. The legislature can cut, but not increase, a governor's spending.

Dealing with a heavily Democratic legislature on other matters could be perilous, though. The governor might try to use the bully pulpit to pressure lawmakers to see things her way.

Even a Democratic majority on the three-member Board of Public Works might not pose much of a threat to Ms. Sauerbrey. After all, it's the governor who sets the board's agenda.

Politically, Ms. Sauerbrey intends to accelerate GOP gains in the legislature when she draws new legislative boundaries. Her aim: More districts that favor Republicans. This means far fewer Baltimore senators and delegates.

That is the opposite of what Mr. Glendening would try to achieve: Despite his disputes with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, he'd want to retain the city's legislative strength through shared city-county districts.

Rarely have the options been so crystal clear for voters. This election highlights the conflicting emotions found in Maryland's growing suburbs. Residents are torn between their desire for expensive government services -- good roads, quality education and ample public protection -- and their desire to reduce government intrusion in their lives.

Maryland's long tradition of political moderation may be about to change. Or voters may decide to keep the ship of state moving in the same old direction.

The race for governor reflects a national struggle going on in Washington and in other state capitals. But few states offer such watershed election this year. If trends are set in 1998, look for them to be set in Maryland.

Barry Rascovar is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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