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Independent is running for delegate on shoestring


William F. Speir doesn't apologize for the plain appearance of his campaign literature, a sheet of typewritten paper straight off the copying machine.

When you've signed a state board of elections affidavit pledging that you won't spend more than $300 on your campaign for the Maryland House of Delegates, you don't have money to spare on slick, printer-quality pamphlets, said Mr. Speir, a Columbia resident.

In fact, the 27-year-old law school student and 1985 Centennial High School graduate has eschewed not only the fund raising widely viewed as essential to successful campaigns, but also ties to any political party. The independent candidate in District 12B said he wants to be beholden to no one except constituents.

"I don't think parties help the political process in Annapolis," said Mr. Speir, who is entering his third year of law school at Widener University in Pennsylvania. "They cause deadlock and conflict. [Representatives] toe the party line. They're really not representing the people who elected them.

"I would hope people vote for the candidate with the best ideas, not just the party label," he said.

As an independent, Mr. Speir must gather more than 600 petition signatures -- 3 percent of the registered voters in the district -- to qualify for the general election. He already has collected about 500 signatures through door-to-door campaigning in the west Columbia, Worthington, Rockburn and Elkridge areas, and hopes to gather another 250 at Columbia village centers over the next three weekends.

If Mr. Speir qualifies for the election in the newly created district that has no incumbent, he will face Republican Charles E. Scott, who currently has no challengers, and the winner of the Democratic primary between Elizabeth Bobo, Rosemary Mortimer and Ethel Hill. He said he hopes to win over supporters from the two losing Democratic candidates.

Ms. Hill, who has served on several county and community boards, said Mr. Speir's entry into the race "indicates how disenchanted most voters are with the business-as-usual posture. We have political activists who keep perpetuating themselves in office and behave as if no one else has the right to run. When they do that, they make no attempt to find out what constituents really want."

Ms. Bobo, the former county executive, said it's hard to gauge the impact of an independent candidate in the heavily Democratic district.

"It depends on who the person is and what kind of campaign he runs," she said. "In a general election, I would certainly take him very seriously."

Mr. Speir is not the only independent from Columbia who's running for delegate. Arthur Reynolds, who filed about 2,400 petition signatures with the Howard County elections office last week, is running unaffiliated in District 13A, which includes east Columbia.

"It was very time-consuming, but it was no hard sell," said Mr. Reynolds, who collected about twice as many signatures as he needed. "I was very surprised how receptive people were to an independent on the ballot."

The time never has been better for a "grass-roots effort, but I don't know if it will go over well," said Mr. Speir, adding that some residents have refused to sign his petition because of their party affiliations. "The public is pretty dissatisfied with the current government."

Mr. Speir emphasizes cracking down on violent criminals, developing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and improving education. He advocates requiring tougher minimum mandatory sentences for violent criminals.

He also supports measures such as electronic monitoring, home detention and requiring offenders to pay to stay at halfway houses to keep nonviolent lawbreakers out of prisons and allow them to maintain their jobs.

Mr. Speir, a Beaverbrook community resident, coached junior varsity soccer for two years at Centennial High School and worked as a waiter and technical writer before entering law school in 1992. He graduated from Frostburg State University with a degree in English in 1990.

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