Smith urging slow growth

Commissioner candidate emphatic about issue

`That's why people support me'

Now a Democrat, she left GOP after gun raffle

Carroll County

October 14, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Betty Smith didn't want to leave her home in Eldersburg, but when businesses began opening left and right on nearby Liberty Road, she felt she had no choice.

"My investment was down to nothing," Smith recalled. In 1987, she and her family moved to quiet, little Uniontown. That was the first time Smith, a Democratic candidate for county commissioner, felt her life being disrupted by the growth that has gradually changed Carroll during the past 35 years.

Now, she's campaigning on the notion that she, more than any other candidate, is committed to slowing residential growth so school, water, emergency and road services can catch up.

"I was so affected by it," she said. "That's why people support me. They know I was affected just like they are."

Smith, 53, has stayed on message throughout the campaign. Her opening salvos at forums invariably have featured bold declarations of her intent to halt building, and her signs feature the slogan "Slow Growth." She has garnered some of the campaign's largest public ovations with her pronouncements.

"I admire Betty's feistiness," said Ross Dangel, spokesman for Freedom Area Citizens' Council, an Eldersburg community group that often has criticized county growth policies. "She really knows how to get a crowd worked up about these issues."

County residents showed their desire for change in the Republican primary Sept. 10, when they decisively voted out incumbents Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, both of whom Smith criticized for years.

But, she says, voters aren't done, and thinks she can ride the reform momentum to the first Democratic victory in a countywide race since 1986.

Smith has been a vocal figure in the reform movement for years. She became a familiar sight during the past few years at meetings on contentious topics such as construction of a water treatment plant at Piney Run Park.

She didn't start as a reformer. The lifelong county resident, who runs a picture-framing business with her husband, considered herself politically independent for most of her life. Then she worked as a secretary for two Republican state's attorneys.

As she became more interested in growth issues, she realized that the Republican Party set the agenda in Carroll. She joined several Republican clubs and began working her way up the party's internal power structure.

She ran for commissioner in 1998 as a Republican, and finished eighth in the primary. Despite the defeat, she was elected to the county's Republican State Central Committee, and became the panel's vice chairwoman.

Then, the party did something that made her cringe and, ultimately, defect.

Uneasy about raffle

The slow-growth advocate said she was feeling unsettled because she thought developers and large landowners were wielding too much influence with the county's Republican leadership. But nothing prepared her for the announcement in early 2000 that the party planned to auction a 9 mm Beretta for a fund-raiser.

The idea was the subject of national and international headlines, but Smith, who said the central committee voted for the fund-raiser when she wasn't present, thought it was abhorrent and emerged as a staunch critic of the event. She resigned from the committee after members failed to reconsider their votes.

When the party announced plans to auction two guns last year, she left altogether.

"As a parent, I couldn't go out and sell raffle tickets for a 9 mm Beretta and then come home and tell my kids that was OK," she said. "Nowhere in the 2nd Amendment does it say you should go around and sell guns as you would sell pies at a bake sale."

Smith said the decision was difficult because she considered herself a loyal, if moderate, Republican. But she thinks she has retained much of her Republican support, and calls her campaign more bipartisan than those of the other five major party candidates. She has a Republican campaign chairman, Russ Vriezen.

"I voted for her four years ago, and I admired her for standing up for her beliefs when she left the party," Vriezen said. "So I wasn't going to let the fact that she's a Democrat and I'm a Republican stop me from supporting her."

Democratic officials hope crossover votes will help Smith pull an upset in the general election Nov. 5.

Republicans have swept the past three commissioner elections, and hold a 10,000-person advantage among the county's 85,000 registered voters.

"She has great appeal for those crossovers who are disaffected from the views of the Republican Party, especially on growth," said Thomas V. McCarron, chairman of the county's Democratic State Central Committee.

Smith has actively raised money throughout the campaign and has been financially competitive with fellow Democrats, raising about $8,600 by August, when the most recent financial reports were filed.

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