Republicans decisively swept a third straight Carroll commissioners election yesterday, with voters selecting incumbent Julia Walsh Gouge, longtime newspaperman Dean L. Minnich and Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. to run the county government for the next four years.
Gouge was the leading vote-getter, with Minnich second. Third-place finisher Jones more than doubled the vote total of his nearest Democratic competitor.
The Republican winners said last night that although they are from the same party as the members of the previous board, they will bring a new leadership style to Carroll.
"Even though three Republicans were elected, more people in the county will be represented by the decisions of this board," Minnich said.
Gouge was looking ahead. "One thing we really have to think about is working together as a team to mend the relationships with the towns and with Annapolis," she said.
Jones echoed her. "We have some tough challenges ahead," he said. "But I feel confident we'll be able to work with the county and with Annapolis."
Democrats said they were disappointed but believe the next board will perform better than the last.
"Sure I'm disappointed, but there was a lot of Republican fervor around the governor's race," said Democrat Jeannie Nichols of Sykesville. "The winners are good people, and they'll do a good job."
Voter turnout in Carroll was 66.8 percent - comparable to the previous two commissioners elections, officials said.
Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 14,000 among the county's 87,000 registered voters. But Democrats Nichols, Neil Ridgely and Betty Smith felt they had some chance after a Sept. 10 primary that saw incumbent conservatives Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier defeated. That result left a batch of eight moderates and reformers seeking the three commissioner seats.
During public forums over the past two months, the remaining candidates often sounded more alike than different, with all saying the county must slow residential growth, halt plans to build a water treatment plant at Piney Run Park and forge better relations with state leaders.
Dell and Frazier often outvoted Gouge 2-1 on land-use issues and spent the last four years battling with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and state planning officials over Smart Growth.
Gouge, 62, began to portray herself as an alternative to Dell and Frazier several years ago. The Hampstead resident's stances made her a hero to the reform-minded activists of South Carroll. Entering her fourth term, she has said the county must keep growth from overwhelming county services.
Minnich, 60, said he entered the race because he sensed for the first time that wealthy and powerful landowners were exerting great influence on county policy-making. The Westminster resident had rarely seemed a firebrand as a columnist, but he went after Dell and Frazier for breaking what he saw as the basic promise of government: to ensure a certain quality of life for its constituents.
Jones, 50, ran in 1998 as a Democrat and is one of the few blacks ever elected to public office in the county. He received criticism for accepting donations from leading conservatives and property-rights activists, but he said he will push for slower growth where necessary.
With the candidates agreeing on many major issues, voters said yesterday that they often looked at either pet issues or party affiliation when making their decisions.
Many Carroll voters said they had showed up primarily to support GOP gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and voted for the Republican commissioner candidates out of party loyalty.
All of the candidates said during the campaign that voters seemed turned off by the public disputes that divided the previous board. The winners said they will work harder at achieving consensus. "We get along well," Gouge said. "That was shown during this campaign."
Sun staff writers Athima Chansanchai, Mary Gail Hare and Jennifer McMenamin and Ellie Baublitz contributed to this article.