Tight race for governor Marylanders have seen a kinder, gentler Sauerbrey on the campaign trail, instead of the staunch conservative of the past

October 25, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr.

In her second bid to become Maryland's first Republican governor in more than a generation, a new Ellen R. Sauerbrey has seemed to emerge.

She is a more polished candidate than four years ago - as at ease stumping before a throng of loyalists as she is pressing the flesh among more tentative Democratic voters who used to be written off by the Republican party.

All but gone is the bitter rhetoric over her narrow loss in 1994 to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and her subsequent challenge of the election on unproven charges of voter fraud.

And perhaps most remarkable, Sauerbrey has struck a decidedly moderate tone in her well-financed campaign for the State House this year and ended up sounding more like Glendening - her opponent in the Nov. 3 election - than the staunch conservative she has prided herself on being in the past.

"Certainly four years [on the campaign trail] is going to give you different views and outlooks," Sauerbrey said in explaining the change since 1994, when the Glendening camp painted her as an "extremist" from the GOP's right wing.

But critics maintain that the image of a kinder, gentler Sauerbrey is a campaign ploy that makes it easier to sell her candidacy to voters in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2 to 1.

"She's absolutely flipping on things," said Glendening, who himself has been similarly criticized. "It's not that she's changed on one position. These are basic, basic issues, almost value issues."

Sauerbrey, 61, once a strident ideologue who was seen as an obstructionist by Democrats during her eight-year tenure as minority leader of the House of Delegates, remains firmly committed to her core GOP beliefs of lower taxes and a less-intrusive government.

One area where she is in sharp disagreement with Glendening is on the subject of Maryland's business climate - an issue on which they often offer dueling statistics to back up their competing claims.

Sauerbrey maintains the state is not doing all it should for business development, citing burdensome regulations and taxes. Glendening says the state economy is humming and points to an increase in job creation over the last four years.

But the distinctions between her and Glendening on other issues have become less clear as she has tempered her message and pledged to leave untouched many programs and policies now in place, an effort in part intended to broaden her support statewide.

"My role as minority leader is very different than it would be as governor," she said in an interview last week. "My role as %J governor would be to find issues that bring people together, where I could really make a difference in people's lives."

Supporters maintain that the change in Sauerbrey is nothing more than the maturation of a statewide candidate, and that her role as House minority leader required her to take an adversarial stance.

"When she was in the House and minority leader, she did a lot of things that we knew weren't going to pass," said Howard County Del. Robert H. Kittleman, who succeeded her as minority leader. "And when you're governor, you can't do that. She's no longer in the minority, attacking party."

Nevertheless, he added: "She hasn't changed her mind, but she has changed her methods."

Once a vocal proponent of cutting government spending and programs to the bone, Sauerbrey now says she wants to increase spending on education by hiring 1,001 new teachers, similar to Glendening. She also would leave in place a costly formula for aid to local schools hammered out this year by the governor and state legislators.

Dropped proposals

These days, she makes no reference to some proposals she once promoted, such as school vouchers - which give parents who send their children to private schools taxpayer-funded help with the cost - or the fingerprinting of welfare recipients to combat fraud.

As a legislator from Baltimore County for 16 years, she voted against most of the key environmental protection measures, saying the laws and regulations were too onerous and costly to industry. But this year she has promised to maintain Glendening's two major environmental programs - Smart Growth and the anti-Pfiesteria bill - which were opposed by conservatives.

Sauerbrey has a reputation for being rabidly anti-union and routinely voted against organized labor while in the House, but she proudly mentions in campaign ads that her father was a union steel worker. She sharply criticized Glendening for establishing by executive order a limited form of collective bargaining for state workers, but now says she would not reverse the policy.

While she has long wanted to make Maryland a "right to work" state, one in which mandatory union membership would be prohibited, she says she will not push for it in the face of strong legislative opposition. Ditto on such hot-button issues as abortion rights and gun control, both of which she has vigorously opposed in the past.

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