Howard voters stick to status quo, re-elect incumbents

Howard County voters ignored the national mood and re-elected incumbents from both major political parties Tuesday, leaving Democrats still firmly in control of the county's local government and Annapolis delegation.

Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lost in Howard County by 9,000 votes, after losing by about 700 votes here in 2006. He was unable to boost even one Republican to victory in legislative District 12A, which covers parts of Elkridge and Ellicott City, but is mostly in Ehrlich's political backyard of Arbutus and southwestern Baltimore County.

"Coattails are usually associated with winning, and obviously he didn't," said state Senate Majority Leader Edward J. Kasemeyer, who represents District 12.

Despite strong challenges to incumbents in Howard, County Executive Ken Ulman and his County Council allies won convincing victories over three former Ehrlich administration officials, while well-funded, energetic attempts by Democrats to unseat western county Republicans also failed.

The only incumbent to lose was Republican Joyce Pope, a judge on the part-time Orphans' Court. Incumbents Frank Aquino and Sandra French were re-elected to the school board. Six other candidates were in tight competition for two other board seats that could be decided by absentee ballots.

"We're a great county," Ulman said. "What would people want to change? People like living here."

Republicans saw things differently.

"I am astounded," said County Council candidate Dennis R. Schrader, a Republican who lost his bid to unseat Democratic incumbent Jennifer Terrasa by a 2-to-1 margin. "How is it in the wake of a national avalanche, Maryland was a cocoon?" Howard's results cannot be fully understood without that larger context, he said.

Donald F. Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Howard's voters have seen no major problems with county government, no scandals and no major policy disputes that might have produced a voter backlash.

"Just good government, so why change horses?" Norris said he thinks voters concluded.

"People are happy in Howard County with the way we run government," said County Council Chairwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat who got 52 percent of the unofficial vote to beat Robert L. Flanagan, a former state delegate and Maryland secretary of transportation, roughly the same margin she had four years ago against a less-known opponent.

He might have lost, Flanagan said, but "the principles that we were fighting for are alive and well. Howard County cannot continue to overspend and over-promise."

Watson said she felt her attention to constituent services helped her gain a hard-fought re-election victory.

"We expected it to be close," she said, crediting her team's hard work for her win, despite a last-minute blitz of Republican attacks. "This is a 50-50 district" divided between Democrats and Republicans. "It would have been easy to lose."

Terrasa, perhaps the key vote in maintaining Ulman's majority support on the five-member council, received 67 percent of the vote against Schrader, a well-known former county councilman and senior Ehrlich and George W. Bush administration emergency preparedness official who got help from Republican National Party Chairman Michael S. Steele.

Columbia Democrats Calvin Ball and Mary Kay Sigaty easily won re-election to the County Council, as did Republican Greg Fox, who got 68 percent of the vote against Dr. Zaneb "Zee" Beams, a Democrat who supports health care reform.

"I feel pretty good about it," Terrasa said of her easy victory. "I worked really hard." She said she benefited from the district's Democratic-heavy voter registration.

"We have been working very hard for many years to create a quality of life," said Del. Guy Guzzone, a Democrat who formerly held the council seat Terrasa now occupies and who helped her campaign.

Democratic state Sen. James N. Robey, a former county executive who beat Republican Kyle Lorton with 63 percent of the vote, agreed. "I think folks in Howard County are reasonably satisfied with the level of service."

Republicans also noted Howard's relative prosperity and corps of federal employees. But several GOP leaders said the drawing of district boundary lines by Democrats was also important.

"I think the lines are drawn," said Del. Warren E. Miller, a Republican who won another term along with Del. Gail H. Bates and Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman. "This is the third [election] cycle with those [district] lines. That is very powerful" and hard to penetrate, Miller said.

Fox agreed, saying the results countywide were much the same as in 2006.

"None of the messaging affected anything," he said, adding that Democrats made a coordinated effort to help Terrasa win.

"Some folks are looking for excuses," Robey said, scoffing at the redistricting argument.

Voters interviewed at county polling places expressed various reasons for their choices.

Greg Edwards, 45, of Ellicott City, who voted at Ellicott Mills Middle School, said he cast his ballot top to bottom for the Republican ticket. "I think we just need a change," he said. "There needs to be accountability from these officials. I wanted to mix it up."

Katherine McCullough, 61, a nurse from Ellicott City who also voted at Ellicott Mills Middle, said she supported Watson because the councilwoman helped get a traffic light at New Cut and Montgomery roads that made things safer. "She listened to what we had to say. Things like that do make a difference to voters."

Republican Robert Tyson, 47, a county education employee voting at Clarksville Middle School, said he supported Gov. Martin O'Malley and Ulman because of their devotion to education. "They're not going to cut money from the school system," Tyson said.

Doris Bates, 55 a Democrat voting at Hammond High School, said she voted the straight Democratic ticket, including Terrasa, because of "her record and her responsiveness to voters. She tries to be there."

Jolene Mollerick, 44, a Republican voting at Patapsco Valley Middle School, said she supported Schrader because "he came to our neighborhood waving signs. He is just someone I was comfortable with." Mollerick said she voted for Ulman because "he marketed himself better" with lots of campaign literature.

Erica Gardes, 23, a Democrat voting at Patapsco Middle, said she stuck with her party for a simple reason. "I haven't objected to anything that has happened since they've been in office," she said of Ulman and Terrasa.

County election officials were to begin counting absentee ballots Thursday, but official returns won't be declared until about Thanksgiving, according to Guy Mickley, deputy election board administrator. Only several nonpartisan school board races and register of wills results were close enough to be affected by absentee ballots.

Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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