GOP seeks to unseat Busch

Republican candidates focused in 30th Legislative District

Maryland Votes 2006

October 22, 2006|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,sun reporter

In one of the key political races in Maryland this fall, House Speaker Michael E. Busch and two other Democrats face a challenge from three upstart Republicans looking to topple one of the state's most powerful -- and polarizing -- political leaders.

Hard-charging newcomers Ron George, an Annapolis jeweler and Innkeeper; Dr. Ron Elfenbein, a doctor practicing in Baltimore; and Andy Smarick, head of a Washington nonprofit that promotes charter schools, technically are running for any of the three House of Delegates seats in District 30.

But, saying they sense Busch is vulnerable, the Republican candidates are knocking on thousands of voters' doors -- accompanied last weekend by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- trying to knock down a giant in state politics.

Others running to represent the area stretching from the Broadneck Peninsula to Shady Side are Democratic officeholders: three-term incumbent Del. Virginia P. Clagett and Barbara Samorajczyk, a County Council member who has just completed the limit of two terms in that office. Republican Del. Herb McMillan created the district's only open seat to become a candidate for state Senate.

While the GOP doesn't have any big names in the House race, state Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller said the three contenders are up-and-coming talent and she is "very hopeful" they will prove competitive.

She's counting on voters to remember how Busch repeatedly clashed with the governor, succeeding in stopping his push to bring slot machines to some Maryland racetracks. Busch also led a House veto override on a medical malpractice bill.

In 2003, the party launched a "Blame Speaker Busch" campaign and targeted him for defeat this year.

"Mike Busch, like his counterpart [Thomas V. Mike Miller] in the Senate, has become punch-drunk with power, putting personal partisan politics over good public policy," Audra Miller said.

Busch, 59, a county recreation and parks official who lives in Annapolis, said he relishes a good fight.

"My job is to stand up to unjust entitlement," he said. "I don't mind being the guy who stood against Blue Cross/Blue Shield over medical malpractice. ... The gaming industry makes the tobacco industry pale in influence.

"Do we want to be a go-along, get-along state or do we want to reach our potential in health care, education and the environment?"

The 20-year delegate -- in his first term as speaker -- said he is proud to have kept slots out. "Slots are an unstable revenue source which would balance the budget on the backs of people in the poorest, African-American communities."

Married with two young daughters, Busch grew up in a modest rancher in Glen Burnie and took the bus to St. Mary's School -- where he later went on to teach and coach.

He says the Republican Party has moved "way to the right" in recent years, noting his Republican challengers oppose legal abortions in most cases, although Ehrlich is pro-choice.

He's braced for this election, with about $275,500 in campaign funds as of Sept. 1, according to the most recent documents filed with the state Board of Elections.

Elfenbein also broke into six figures, with about $201,675 on hand. Samorajczyk, Smarick and Clagett were well behind, reporting $27,700, $26,700 and $14,500, respectively.

While Busch came in first among five candidates in the Democratic primary in September, Smarick, 30, said Busch is "worried."

"Remember [former Democratic speaker] Caspar Taylor going down because he was out of step with his district?"

Education is the engine that Smarick hopes to ride to the State House. He discusses days as a student at Broadneck High School and UM College Park and nuances of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the plight of Baltimore schools.

"I never would have compromised on that," he says of the state legislature's stalemate on funding and taking control of 11 troubled city schools in Baltimore.

But, most of all, he wants voters to know -- and judge -- him as a founder the KIPP Harbor Academy, a charter school in Edgewater open to fifth- and sixth-graders. Based on a national model, the project was an intellectual passion he put into practice for low-income children in the Annapolis area, he said.

Smarick previously worked as a legislative aide to Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Kent County. He along with George and Elfenbein picked upendorsements from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce PAC.

He grew up in Revell Downs on the Broadneck Peninsula and was recently married at St. Mary's Church.

In forums and interviews, Smarick questions Democratic claims to be better environmental stewards, given the Chesapeake Bay's fragile ecosystem. Busch, Clagett and Samorajczyk are supported by environmental groups.

"Prove to me what you've done to make the bay healthier," Smarick says, in a campaign refrain.

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