IF HOWARD County Republicans could win two more delegate seats in the county's eight-member General Assembly delegation, it would greatly increase the GOP's political clout, and it could tip the delegation's political balance, party leaders believe.
That is why conservative Democrats James E. Malone Jr. and Steven J. DeBoy Sr., two delegates who represent Elkridge, as well as part of Catonsville in Baltimore County, are feeling targeted in next year's elections,
"We are targeted. We are absolutely targeted," DeBoy said.
"I feel like I have to run like I did last time - for the first time," said DeBoy, a retired Baltimore County police officer who is a civilian employee of the Howard County Police Department.
Republicans occupy two of Howard County's eight delegate seats, but have a 2-1 edge among the three state senators. That means they can often block local legislation sponsored by Democrats, since all local bills must be separately approved by both the House and the Senate groups.
But, as Del. Warren E. Miller pointed out, that left him and fellow Republican Del. Gail H. Bates unable to block adoption of a tax on new homes to help finance new school construction, despite their opposition to any tax increase. County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, pushed for more tax revenue for schools for several years, finally winning a compromise.
Having equal strength with the Democrats "would temper the amount of legislation that gets out," Miller said, and could have strengthened the Republican senators' hand on the tax issue. "I think we pay enough taxes as it is," he said.
Wendy Fiedler, the county Democratic Party chairwoman, said the two Catonsville-based delegates will be hard targets for any Republican candidate.
"Jimmy and Steve have records that prove they represent their constituents very well," she said. "Those two are very well liked and respected."
Democratic Del. Frank S. Turner said DeBoy and Malone have another edge.
"They've been very cautious in their voting patterns, and it reflects their constituents' views," he said.
But if Republicans can capitalize on Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s popularity on his home turf in southwestern Baltimore County and unseat the two Democrats, the GOP likely would have half of Howard's House delegation.
"If we get four out of eight [delegates], we get a tie on leadership," said Howard M. Rensin, Republican chairman in the county.
But the real GOP focus is broader - gaining more overall clout in the General Assembly, he said. "It's part of a growing statewide momentum. You need to demonstrate growing strength," he said.
"We're looking at all the seats. We're not going to be targeting people," Rensin added.
The party is hoping to win an open delegate seat in the southwestern county's District 13, occupied by Democrat Neil F. Quinter. Quinter has said he will leave the legislature to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Turner said he and fellow District 13 Democrat Del. Shane E. Pendergrass plan to bolster Democratic chances of keeping Quinter's seat for their party by joining to work for one candidate they will support.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to pull that person in," he said. Melissa Berger, a novice Democrat, is the only announced candidate for Quinter's seat.
Mary Beth Tung, who got 15.23 percent of the vote in the 2002 District 13 delegate election, came closest among Republicans, but she was still about 2,000 votes behind Quinter, the nearest Democrat. He got 17 percent of the vote.
"I'll be better known, better organized and I'll know what I'm doing more," said Tung, who plans to run again.
DeBoy got 25 percent of the vote in District 12A in 2002, which put him about 1,200 votes ahead of Joe Hooe, the closest Republican, who got 23 percent.
Republicans also hope to keep their 2-1 edge among the county's senators by defeating an expected attempt by Democrats to unseat moderate Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader.
The development of hundreds of acres of farm fields off Route 216 in Fulton into the Maple Lawn, Maryland mixed-use project has been one of Howard County's most contentious zoning issues, but no acrimony was evident last week at a celebration of the community's first business opening.
Schrader, Robey, and County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, helped cut the ribbon Tuesday for Maryland's 24th Citizen's National Bank branch.
Pointing to a field of tall corn just behind the building, Robey commented on the contrast between the seemingly limitless cornfields he knew as a youth growing up in the county and the development he sees now. Maple Lawn is so big it has been assigned a ZIP code (20759).
"I'm very pleased the way it is now," Robey said, thanking developer Stuart J. Greenebaum for bringing more than 1,100 new homes and over a million square feet of commercial space to the county that will, he said, provide places for thousands of new defense and homeland security workers to live, work and shop.