GOP has edge in board election Three Republicans favored in voting for commissioners

October 18, 1998|By James M. Coram and Mary Gail Hare | James M. Coram and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Of the seven candidates vying for the three seats on the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, the three Republicans have the edge; the three Democrats are in an uphill battle but with a fighting chance; and the lone independent has the role of spoiler.

"It is not impossible for Democrats to win," said Donald R. Jansiewicz, professor of political science at Carroll Community College. "All they need to do is finish third."

Of the 76,197 registered voters in the county, there are 38,247 Republicans, 29,831 Democrats and 7,841 independents. Small parties account for the other 278.

Voters cross party lines. The party label has less meaning today and plays a less important role in American politics, Jansiewicz said.

However, the GOP is so strong and so well-financed in Carroll that some Democrats seeking local office found they can do better in the Republican Party.

Kenneth Tregoning, for example, lost to incumbent Sheriff John Brown four years ago when he ran as a Democrat. Tregoning joined the Republican Party and beat the two-term sheriff handily last month in the GOP primary.

Slow-growth activist Carolyn Fairbank of Sykesville, a Democrat for 23 years, forsook her party to run as an independent in the commissioner race, believing that gave her the best chance to win Nov. 3.

"I knew the Democrats would be expending most of their effort getting Ellen Willis Miller re-elected to the legislature," Fairbank said. "I could not change to the Republican Party. It would be hypocritical for me to run as a Republican."

Fairbank, who has built a reputation in South Carroll as an advocate of strong growth controls, could be a spoiler, said Jansiewicz, who feels she will siphon votes from Democrats.

"There are more independent voters than ever, but they may not vote for an independent candidate," said Jansiewicz.

GOP 'contractors'

The Republicans -- incumbent Donald I. Dell, Robin Bartlett Frazier, a former planning commission chairman, and Julia Walsh Gouge, former two-time commissioner -- are taking nothing for granted, despite their apparent advantage. They are campaigning hard, though not together.

"The Republicans are not running as a ticket and are acting more like independent contractors," said Jansiewicz. "They are all three more interested in their own victories than [in] winning together."

If Fairbank or the Democrats -- Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr., Roger Larry Mann of Westminster and former Sykesville Councilwoman Maxine Carole Wooleyhand -- are to win, they must attract Republican voters.

"There's always a chance for a Democrat to sneak in," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines of Westminster, leader of the county's General Assembly delegation.

Three Republicans have governed Carroll for the last four years, a term characterized by infighting and indecision, tax increases and the demands of a population of nearly 150,000 -- double the number of people who lived here 20 years ago.

"Four years ago, there was clearly a shift from rural population to a suburban one," said Jansiewicz. "There was a clear denial of that from officials who were, in a sense, fighting the last war. The commissioners were not thinking about how to control rapidly developing suburb and guide it into the future."

Vulnerable incumbent

Dell might be the most vulnerable of the Republican candidates, because he has a record to defend, said Jansiewicz, adding, "The others don't have to defend any actions of the commissioners."

The record includes increases in both the piggyback and property taxes, among the highest in the metropolitan area. Schools are surrounded by portable classrooms in most of the county, and residents are clamoring for more police and fire protection and costly road improvements that the commissioners have not delivered.

If campaign donations help, the Republican candidates have another advantage. During the reporting period that ended Aug. 30, the three GOP candidates raised $30,548 for their campaigns, despite competing for dollars with 10 other Republican county commissioner candidates.

Frazier, a newcomer to campaigning, amassed nearly $14,000, the most of any candidate. "It is very unusual for a newcomer," Jansiewicz said. "One does not randomly end up in great shape."

Frazier has won the endorsements of Haines and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican.

"Robin is like a granddaughter to me," Bartlett said before the September GOP primary. "She is a good conservative, helps people and is very knowledgeable about county issues. How could I not support such a wonderful person?"

Haines said he usually does not "come out early and support one candidate [before the GOP primary], but Robin is a person of integrity, an individual of high moral principle. She is very, very close to local government."

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