IN A WORLD of political strife and confrontation, the Senate of Maryland has been an oasis of bipartisanship and collegiality.
Until now, at least.
With the defeat of two leading Republican moderates in last week's primary, Senate Democrats are worried that their smooth-running chamber could become a scene of confrontation and gridlock.
Baltimore County Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, the minority leader, and Frederick County Sen. John W. Derr, the minority whip, had their long legislative careers ended by aggressive young challengers aligned with the Christian right. The two veterans, who had helped defeat a bill this year that would have banned a controversial late-term abortion procedure, ran afoul of the social conservatives who turned out in droves in the GOP primary.
Andrew P. Harris, who defeated Boozer, and Alexander Mooney, who ousted Derr, now face little-known, underfinanced Democratic opponents unlikely to block their path to Annapolis.
Their election would all but ensure that the GOP caucus that convenes next January will be significantly more conservative. The right-wing contingent could be even stronger if Del. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican hard-liner, prevails over moderate Democratic Del. Mary Louise Preis in a hard-fought Harford County race. The winner of that contest will succeed Sen. David R. Craig, a mainstream conservative who got along well with Democrats.
The defeat of Boozer and Derr leaves Republican leadership vacancies that more conservative senators are eager to fill.
"I think we'll have stronger Republican leadership," said GOP Sen. Larry E. Haines of Carroll County, who aided Harris' campaign against Boozer. Haines, a leader of the Senate's anti-abortion forces, sought the minority leadership before and is not ruling out another try.
Democrats, who hold a 32-15 majority in the Senate, were clearly distressed at the political demise of their Republican colleagues.
When told of their defeats, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called Boozer and Derr "dear friends" who had been "savaged by the right wing of their party."
"It'll make the Senate of Maryland more like the partisanship that exists on Capitol Hill," was Miller's first reaction.
Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, called the loss of Derr and Boozer "devastating."
"It's a loss to the body because they were able to articulate Republican views in the marketplace in a way that got them taken seriously," Hoffman said. She predicted that if Haines' wing takes control of the caucus, fewer Republican ideas would find their way into law.
The Baltimore Democrat noted Ellen R. Sauerbrey's confrontational reign as House minority leader in the early 1990s. "She really got nothing," Hoffman said.
Later last week, Miller sounded more conciliatory, expressing hope the Senate would change the incoming senators more than they would change the Senate.
"I've always practiced a policy of inclusion," said Maryland's longest-serving Senate president. "I've never had a leadership session where a Republican hasn't been included in the meeting."
Miller said the tradition of bipartisan cooperation in the Senate goes back decades, citing his friendship with the late Sen. John A. Cade, minority leader before Boozer took over in 1996. So cordial was their relationship that Miller gave Cade a key subcommittee chairmanship on Budget & Taxation -- a plum normally not awarded to a member of the minority.
Harris, in an interview yesterday, emphasized conciliation over confrontation. "I want to work with everyone," said the 41-year-old anesthesiologist.
But Mooney indicated he doesn't plan to play by Miller's rules. "You can count on me to vote against tax-and-spend budgets," said the 27-year-old former congressional aide. "I will get along with anyone, but I won't go along. I'll stand on principle."
Glendening, Sauerbrey debate schedule uncertain
Will Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey debate? Both sides say yes, but it's too early to say what the schedule might look like.
The Glendening camp announced yesterday that the governor was willing to take part in three debates on specific dates. The Sauerbrey campaign responded that she would appear in as many as five debates, but that the dates and locations were still to be decided.
Both candidates did say they are willing to square off at the University of Maryland, College Park on or about Oct. 23.
But Sauerbrey turned down Glendening's proposal to appear together Oct. 5 on Maryland Public Television, saying the station was controlled by Glendening appointees and was not a neutral enough venue.
Pub Date: 9/22/98