Bissett defends his record as he seeks re-election Republican says he's frustrated at being called vulnerable

Campaign 1998

October 21, 1998|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Phillip D. Bissett is tired. Sick and tired, the Republican Anne Arundel County delegate says with much frustration, of hearing about the tough fight for re-election he's got ahead of him next month.

As one of three incumbents seeking re-election in the District 30 race, Bissett says he has proved himself over and over by supporting strict drunken-driving laws, harsh penalties for child abusers and more money for school construction. He is the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee and chairman of the county delegation.

Yet, election observers and candidates say Bissett is the easiest member of the delegation to pick off. He's the vulnerable one. Even hard-nosed Republicans say his two Democratic colleagues in District 30 -- Delegates Michael E. Busch of Annapolis and Virginia P. Clagett of West River -- are so well-liked in this conservative county that they'll be tough to beat.

"Look at my constituent service," says Bissett, 42, an Edgewater resident who is seeking his third term in office. "Look at my record. I've helped lower taxes, improve education spending and supported and sponsored legislation to decrease crime. All the time and effort you put into it and you get all this propaganda. You can see the frustration in this."

His doubters are "a good motivator, though," Bissett says. "It makes me work harder."

Bissett's frustrations are not unfounded. In District 30, which comprises Arnold, Annapolis and South County east of Solomons Island Road, Democrats have traditionally outnumbered Republicans by a slight margin.

Busch, an Annapolis teacher, basketball and football coach, chairs the Economic Matters Committee and has handled key medical and insurance legislation. The top vote-getter in the last general election, he is likely to get the nod for a fourth term.

Clagett is well-known and well-liked as the champion of environmental and farm-preservation legislation as a member of the County Council who carried that reputation into her first term in the House of Delegates.

2 other GOP hopefuls

Political observers think it unlikely that the other two Republican candidates will win the election. Edward J. Turner, an Arnold resident who manages Easton's business management authority, has little name recognition. William A. McConkey, a former Prince George's County GOP activist, was asked by Bissett to remove himself from the ballot last month because of legal and professional problems.

McConkey, who owns and manages rental properties, agreed to be disbarred from the Maryland Bar Association in May 1995, and his real estate broker's license was revoked later that year for risky business dealings.

Democratic newcomer Richard D'Amato, a retired U.S. Senate senior staffer, has made it no secret that he is after Bissett. D'Amato's campaign is boosted by support from the powerful "ABC" District 30 Democratic ticket of Sen. John C. Astle, Busch and Clagett.

"Running against Bissett's record is going to be easy," says D'Amato, 55, who has been knocking on hundreds of doors every week since April. "I disagree with him on almost everything. He supports the NRA, his record on the environment and education is weak, and he's not good on women's issues. He missed 229 votes in the last session.

"I think he's vulnerable," says D'Amato, a decorated Vietnam veteran who spent 20 years in Washington as a senior staff member for various legislators. In that time, D'Amato says, he helped create the Visitor Center at the Naval Academy and crafted legislation to convert the Greenbury Point radio tower haven into a wildlife refuge.

Bissett calls such charges "desperate statements" and "mere rhetoric from somebody doing poorly in the polls. He's been in Washington too long."

"Anne Arundel received 94 percent of the money they requested for schools, and I have a 93.7 percent attendance record," Bissett says. "I voted for Pfiesteria bills, the Rural Legacy initiative, and I'm for Smart Growth. D'Amato is out of touch."

D'Amato's critics paint him as an outsider who knows little about the area. Many resent him for his role a few years ago in helping launch an investigation into the Naval Academy Athletic Association. The private, nonprofit organization that finances Navy athletics was accused of misusing funds but was cleared in an investigation.

At the time, D'Amato was administrative assistant to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat who called for the inquiry.

Naval Academy controversy

"I don't think he was held in high esteem by the athletic rTC association," says Bill Busik, a retired Navy captain who lives in District 30 and served on the committee that looked into the NAAA charges. "I don't think it affects his ability to run for whatever office he's running for, but if we in the Navy were asked our opinion, we'd remember that."

Academy supporter Minor Carter, who lives in Annapolis, is harsher. He says, "I find it ironic he sends out circulars about his naval affiliation when it's well known he's been a significant thorn in the side of the Naval Academy and NAAA."

D'Amato responds, "Hey, I didn't feel good about my role. But that was my job. To paint me as anti-academy is inaccurate."

While D'Amato and Bissett snipe at each other, Busch reminds voters that none of the incumbents considers a win guaranteed.

"There are four people running pretty hard for three seats," Busch says. "I think if voters home in on what's happened over the last four years, they'd have to be pretty happy with their legislators. But all of us have a little bit of anxiety on what can happen on Election Day."

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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