Rebuff sends activist to higher challenge

Gilleland opposes veteran DeGrange for Senate seat

October 24, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Had it not been for a public gubernatorial snub, Terry R. Gilleland might be sitting on a county school board instead of challenging an incumbent state senator to represent Glen Burnie in District 32.

During the summer, a community panel recommended Gilleland as a top candidate to fill an at-large seat on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. But Gov. Parris N. Glendening passed over him and another candidate after County Executive Janet S. Owens insisted that builder Konrad M. Wayson get the seat.

At age 25 - just old enough to enter the Senate race - Republican Gilleland decided to challenge incumbent James E. DeGrange Sr., a Democrat, for the seat representing one of the fastest-growing areas of the county.

While the Linthicum resident says he doesn't have many criticisms of DeGrange's leadership, he does think the district needs a change.

"We need to work to change the behavior that's developed in Annapolis," he said. "We need to work at changing the culture and some of the spending projects that have run up a $1.7 billion deficit."

Gilleland said Democratic dominance of the State House shares blame with lobbyists for the Capitol's free-spending ways.

In addition to cutting costs, Gilleland's priorities include finding more funding for teachers in the classrooms and fighting maglev, the costly, high-speed train proposed to connect Baltimore and Washington.

Maglev is one of the biggest issues facing the district, because the proposed routes for the train would likely run through several of its communities. Many legislators oppose it because of the cost: an estimated $3.8 billion, with Maryland contributing $500 million, the Federal Railroad Administration providing $950 million, and private funds making up the balance. The FRA will decide next year whether Maryland or the Pittsburgh area will get the right to go ahead with the project.

For candidates, the issue has been not only whether they oppose maglev, but how.

Gilleland endorses the strategy of fellow Republican Del. James E. Rzepkowski, who derided the creation of a task force to study maglev as a waste of time and money.

DeGrange, in contrast, sits on the task force, and doesn't apologize for it.

"You can never do anything by just saying no. You have to come in with facts and figures to prove that it's not going to work," DeGrange said. "I'm sitting on there to be able to be the voice of reason, to show that it's not going to work."

DeGrange, 53, is a lifelong North County resident who has long looked out for the area that includes Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the fast-growing northern suburbs. He served on the board of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association from 1985 to 1989, and on the County Council from 1994 to 1998.

A longtime executive at his family's lumber company before it closed, DeGrange remains president of Glen Burnie Mutual Savings Bank's board of directors.

During his Senate term, DeGrange sponsored a number of bills, among them one providing property-tax relief to low-income senior citizens - something he calls a "no-brainer" - and another that would have provided workers' compensation for firefighters. The property tax bill passed, but the firefighters' request did not, so DeGrange is vowing to try again.

"There are individuals out there that aren't protected that should be protected under the law," DeGrange said. "I thought it was a reasonable request."

The DeGrange name is well-known in the district. His five siblings also live in the county, and some are active in their community organizations. The senator regularly attends community meetings and often takes up local causes, such as pushing the county to add a crossing guard at a dangerous intersection in front of his alma mater, Glen Burnie High School, after a student died crossing the street.

DeGrange sees his Senate service as an extension of his community activism and will remain involved in North County issues, win or lose, he says.

"I was born and raised here," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."

Gilleland served on the school board while in high school in 1994, and he chairs the Republican Central Committee in Anne Arundel. He said that while some voters may see his youth as a liability, others find it appealing.

"What I do have is a vision, and a wealth of energy," he said. "It's not a question of what have you done, but of what can you do."

The most recent campaign finance filings, as of Aug. 30, indicate DeGrange had raised $263,600 and Gilleland $6,897.

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