Will Schaefer Debate?


Now that the second-bananas -- the two candidates for lieutenant governor -- have engaged in a meaningful public dialogue, isn't it time for their more important ticket mates to step forward and engage in substantive debate?

Republican candidate William S. Shepard is more than willing. Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer is not. He's content to sit back and avoid a public confrontation with Mr. Shepard. Thus the Schaefer record goes undefended against Mr. Shepard's attacks.

Last week's radio debate between Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and Lois Shepard -- Mr. Shepard's wife and ticket mate -- proved to be a healthy and instructive discussion.

Mrs. Shepard attacked the Schaefer-Steinberg administration for lavish public projects, creating a huge budget deficit, increasing the threat to public safety and hinting at higher taxes next year. Mr. Steinberg countered by defending his administration's actions, correcting Mrs. Shepard's inaccuracies about the workings of government and revealing her lack of state or local experience.

It was a fine table-setter. Now, for the main course: let's have a Don Schaefer-Bill Shepard debate. Each man owes it to the voters to confront one another and engage in a spirited discussion of the state's most pressing problems.

Mr. Schaefer tried to avoid debating his main foe four years ago, Attorney General Stephen Sachs. In the end, the governor participated in one radio debate, but stormed off in a huff early.

In this summer's primary campaign, Mr. Schaefer ignored his Democratic foe, Fred Griisser, as though he did not exist. The governor also ignored discussion of issues or his plans for a second term. That attitude is not acceptable to voters in this current election campaign.

Mr. Schaefer should use public debates to explain his administration's actions to voters. He has nothing to be ashamed of. At the same time, the governor should use these debates to put Mr. Shepard on the spot. What are his specifics for coping with budget deficits? How would he cope with traffic gridlock? How would he have kept the Orioles from leaving Baltimore?

These questions are best answered in a public forum. WMAR-TV in Baltimore has offered to sponsor a debate between the Democratic and Republic gubernatorial candidates. Mr. Shepard quickly accepted. Mr. Schaefer should do likewise.

So far, all we've gotten from the two nominees is political rhetoric -- broad, sweeping charges of incompetence from Mr. Shepard; pep-rally style barnstorming by Mr. Schaefer. That's not good enough. Both candidates owe it to their constituents to initiate a true public dialogue. That way, voters can decide for themselves which candidate is best prepared to run Maryland's state government over the next four years.

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