Helen Bentley and Ross Perot

As a would-be governor of Maryland, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley should give a close reading to what a real governor -- William Donald Schaefer -- has to say about the North American Free Trade Agreement. On the page opposite, Mr. Schaefer says NAFTA is not just a good idea but an "absolute necessity." He poses two rhetorical questions:

"Will this agreement create jobs in Maryland? The answer is yes.


"Will this agreement be good for Maryland economically? Again, the answer is yes."

Yet Maryland's Second District congresswoman has become the anti-NAFTA movement's favorite Republican, the one protectionist voice that can be relied upon to bash Mexico as she has bashed Japan for years.


She was the only Republican among a bunch of Democratic women who went South of the Border last spring to discover (surprise?) that Mexicans are poor and live in a polluted environment. We asked her at the time if the defeat of NAFTA would help these poor Mexicans, but we never got an answer. And this past weekend Mrs. Bentley went up to Michigan to join with the likes of Ross Perot and Sen. Donald Riegle in an anti-NAFTA rally.

This was some mission for a professed Republican. Mr. Perot HTC gives aid and comfort to the "Smoot-Hawley Republicans," the ultra-nationalist xenophobes who would turn the GOP back to the time when they favored the protectionist policies that brought on the Great Depression. Democrat Riegle, one of the notorious "Keating Five," is the No. 1 Republican target in next year's election. But there was Mrs. Bentley, hundreds of miles distant from her constituency, playing her now-familiar role in denouncing a pact initiated by a Republican president (George Bush) and supported strongly by most of her fellow Republicans.

Unlike legislators, who can indulge themselves in theory and ideology, governors have to run governments and look after the economies of their states. That's why 42 of the 50 governors are already behind NAFTA. That's why Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, a Republican, wrote the other day that "governors know NAFTA will simply accelerate an already booming trade situation with Mexico, and more trade means more jobs."

Helen Delich Bentley's persistent protectionism raises questions about her possible run for the governorship. But then, it also raises questions about whether she is upholding the interests of her congressional district.