For aficionados of Carroll County's political scene, this election year promises to offer a bit more excitement than usual.
Instead of the usual situation in which a large field of weak challengers runs against entrenched incumbents, this year offers number of hotly contested races.
Even at this early stage, before all the candidates have declared their intentions, the races for commissioner, sheriff, state delegate and school board promise to be lively.
Handicapping political races this early in the season is hazardous. Some candidates declare and then withdraw at the last minute. Others wait until the last minute to file. Nevertheless, confirmed political junkies can't resist analyzing the races. Even before a vote is cast, Carroll's post-election line-up of elected representatives promises to be different than it is today.
At least one of the three incumbent county commissioners won't be returning to office. Julia W. Gouge is relinquishing her seat to run for the state House of Delegates. While her colleagues Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy have indicated they will stand for re-election and should enjoy the natural advantage of incumbency, the field of announced candidates interested in Mrs. Gouge's post -- which currently includes Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown and Westminster Councilman Stephen Chapin -- may provide the incumbents with stiff competition.
The commissioners have not enjoyed a term free of controversy and contention. The rapid growth of Carroll County has created a great deal of unhappiness.
Mr. Dell's much-repeated 1990 campaign slogan, "Keep It Country," won't play as well as it did four years ago. As a commissioner, he opposed a number of environmental initiatives and consistently supported developers and initiatives -- such as extending Interstate 795 from Baltimore County into Carroll -- BTC that would accelerate growth. His advocacy on behalf of the county's farmers has remained steadfast, however, and will probably help him to draw many of their votes.
Mr. Lippy, by contrast, has been maneuvering to placate a wide range of different constituents. He voted for the creation of a women's commission and approved the forest conservation ordinance, but has waffled on other hot-button issues such as exploring the extension of I-795.
Now that Mrs. Gouge has stated her intentions, the race for commissioner may also draw in some other folks who were waiting on the sidelines. The names of former Sykesville Mayor Lloyd Helt and current planning commission member David Duree have been bandied about as possible candidates. Francis X. Walsh Jr., who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for state House and Senate seats, said he might run in the Republican primary, too.
Sheriff John Brown, a Republican, is another incumbent who may have to face a formidable challenger. Months ago, Kenneth L. Tregoning, the former commander of the Westminster state police barracks, announced he would seek the Democratic nomination for sheriff. Mr. Tregoning had a reputation as an efficient manager and professional lawman. He has yet to test his campaigning skills, however, and may find that dealing with the voters is not as easy as running a complement of troopers.
State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, who all but formally announced his intention to seek a fifth term, does not have any opponents at the moment. Jerry Barnes, an assistant state's attorney in Frederick County who campaigned for the top prosecutor's job in Carroll the last election, has yet to declare his intentions. If Mr. Barnes runs again, the race should be another donnybrook.
The race for state delegate also becomes interesting this year because of redistricting. Carroll gains the District 5 seat that it formerly shared with Baltimore County. Mrs. Gouge is eyeing this seat. Incumbents Richard Dixon, Richard Matthews and Donald Elliott will all run again. So will a whole host of challengers, many of whom ran last election and are willing to try again.
Senators Charles Smelser and Larry Haines will also be running again, but don't have any competition at the moment. However, challengers are likely to crop up.
It is also evident that some of the races -- particularly for seats on the county school board -- will be nasty, pointed and highly ideological. Carolyn L. Scott, one of the two incumbents whose term is up, has declared her intention to run again. John Myers, who occupies the other seat, has yet to announce what he will do.
At least two opponents of outcomes-based education -- Gary Bauer and Laura Albers -- have already announced for the school board. They believe in what the Washington Post political columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. calls the "politics of moral annihilation." Practitioners of this brand of campaigning believe criticizing their opponents isn't sufficient. They believe that an adversary's moral standing has to be thoroughly discredited.
We got an inkling of this during the battle over the adoption of the outcomes-based education curriculum, which school officials viewed as a set of goals for students, but that opponents criticized as too oriented toward self-esteem and subjects that ran afoul of community values. We will get the full force of this schism during the forthcoming campaign.
The approaching political season looks promising. There should be plenty of action, fireworks and strong language. Grab a chair and get ready for the show.
Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.