Sauerbrey moderates her message for voters Gubernatorial candidate echoes rival Glendening on several issues

September 27, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Thomas W. Waldron and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

During her 16 years in the Maryland General Assembly and as a gubernatorial candidate in 1994, Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey was rarely shy about calling for tax cuts and reducing the size and reach of state government.

Today, in her second run for the governor's office, Sauerbrey has recast her positions -- sounding more and more like her rival, Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

She is still promoting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts -- but her proposals for shrinking state government have vanished.

Instead, she predicts, tax cuts will spur an economic boom in Maryland, which will, in turn, boost tax revenues and eliminate the need for major cuts in state spending.

In the process, she has embraced several expensive state spending programs already championed by her Democratic opponent.

Sauerbrey's insistence that the state can have it all -- major tax cuts and expanded spending -- without a potentially harsh dose of fiscal discipline is just one piece of a determined strategy to moderate her message for an overwhelmingly Democratic electorate and avenge her razor-thin loss in 1994.

Known as perhaps the most conservative member of the General Assembly until she left in 1995, Sauerbrey has attempted to ease into the middle of the political spectrum for her Nov. 3 rematch with Glendening.

"I think what I'm attempting to do is give people a further picture of who I am and what my positions are," Sauerbrey explained in a lengthy interview last week. "I'm simply being realistic in saying I want to focus my efforts on what we can achieve in the next four years."

But her shift in focus does not just involve core issues of taxes and spending. On divisive issues such as abortion, gun control and union protection, Sauerbrey now rarely brings up her longtime, vigorous opposition. On education and the environment, her current stances are much more moderate.

While she voted against a landmark education funding bill as a legislator in 1984, she now supports increasing state education spending and the hiring of 1,000 additional teachers.

On the environment, she acknowledges a mistake in opposing an anti-phosphate initiative in the General Assembly. She promises to keep in place the key components of Glendening's two major environmental accomplishments -- Smart Growth and the anti-Pfiesteria bill -- opposed by conservatives.

Glendening has stepped up his criticism of Sauerbrey in recent weeks, accusing her of a disingenuous makeover designed to fool the voters. He has begun television advertising to remind people of her political evolution.

"She's absolutely flipping on things," Glendening said in an interview. "It's not that she's changed on one position. These are basic, basic issues, almost value issues."

Sauerbrey is quick to turn the question back on Glendening. "Hasn't he remade himself?" she asks, ticking off shifts in his approaches to the environment, education and abortion.

In any case, the policy differences between Sauerbrey and Glendening have begun to blur.

The governor, with the support of the General Assembly, has stepped up spending for education and committed more money to building or renovating schools than any governor in a quarter-century.

Sauerbrey, who voted against the precursor to the current education spending formula in 1984, now says she would not seek to change the state aid formula -- a $2.6 billion item this year that grows annually.

She wants to build even more schools than the governor. Like Glendening, Sauerbrey wants to hire more teachers to reduce some class sizes, at an annual cost of $40 million.

Sauerbrey has shifted her position on spending in other areas: She said she agrees with the governor's plan approved this year by the legislature to increase services for the developmentally disabled, which will cost the state an additional $68 million annually once fully implemented in four years. "I would intend to try to do exactly that," Sauerbrey said. "The only place I'm a liberal is in the area of the developmentally disabled."

While she has made no commitment to a pay raise for state employees, she criticizes Glendening for not doing more for workers during his first term. "If the state is in good times, as we have been for four years, state employees should have been enjoying some of the benefits," she said.

Although she rails against Glendening-backed state expenditures for stadiums, she says she has no objection to Glendening-backed projects such as a basketball arena at the University of Maryland, College Park or a performing arts center in Montgomery County.

Like the governor, Sauerbrey supports the state's acquisition of Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland, a potentially costly purchase. "It's a state treasure, and I think that had to be protected," Sauerbrey said. "That would be a priority to me."

Critically, the two still diverge on taxes -- with Sauerbrey, despite her new penchant for spending, wanting to cut taxes more.

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