TAX CUT FEVER Sauerbrey's pledge taps into mood of resentment toward government CAMPAIGN 1994


Clutching a handful of coupons, Terry Fortier, a stay-at-home mom and former schoolteacher from Gaithersburg, entered the Discount Shoppers Warehouse on Rockville Pike, pausing just long enough to explain why she was excited by Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

"I like the idea of tax cuts," said Mrs. Fortier, 45, citing the centerpiece of the message the Republican gubernatorial candidate is beaming at voters. "I am for helping the needy, but I don't agree with the big government approach."

Mrs. Fortier is a Republican, which explains in part her support for the GOP standard-bearer. VonZell Williams is a less likely Sauerbrey backer.

Mr. Williams, 32, is an unemployed laborer with four daughters. His wife is a schoolteacher. He's a Democrat. He also is black, a member of a voting group from which Democrat Parris N. Glendening draws overwhelming support.

"I'm going to take my chance with her," Mr. Williams said outside a Payless shoe store in a Northeast Baltimore shopping center. "My family needs more money. Taxes are too high here. Too high. Government-as-usual is getting real old."

Maybe, he said, Mrs. Sauerbrey and her talk of tax cuts can stimulate business activity "and help me get my life back on track."

Mrs. Sauerbrey's pledge to slash taxes by 24 percent over four years has sent a shock wave through the Maryland political landscape, though the magnitude of the tremor and its probable duration are difficult to measure.

Politicians of both parties and voters such as Mrs. Fortier andMr. Williams agree that it is a powerful message, one that could well result in the state electing a Republican governor for the first time in three decades.

Others, however, say that it is doomed to fall of its own weight before Election Day, Nov. 8, either because they foresee Draconian cuts in essential government services or because Mrs. Sauerbrey has been exceedingly vague about how she would make good on her promises.

Not surprisingly, many of the doubters are Democrats in the camp of Mr. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive. But not all of them.

The comments of Mrs. Fortier and Mr. Williams, for example, were in sharp contrast to the skepticism of some other voters interviewed this week by The Sun, including Bobbie J. Rubright, a Republican whose concerns about the Sauerbrey tax initiative may cause her to vote for Mr. Glendening.

"I have five kids, and every time they cut taxes, the first place it comes from is education," said Ms. Rubright, a 40-year-old Glen Burnie resident whose children attend Anne Arundel County public schools.

"Last year, my son had a science book that said, 'One day, we will land on the moon,' " said an exasperated Ms. Rubright, a billing clerk for an insurance company.

While she believes the welfare system is "being abused, big time," she still expressed concerns that social programs would be cut severely.

Ms. Rubright said that her view of such programs changed after she lost her job four years ago, when the company she worked for was sold and closed it doors. She lost her manager's job and health benefits and had to "start all over."

"When everything's going your way, you really don't see the other side of it," she said. "I've been on both sides of the fence."

Michael A. Gunther, 40, a Reagan Democrat from Severn, said he, too, is worried about cutbacks in services, especially education and law enforcement. But he is thinking of voting for Mrs. Sauerbrey anyway.

"I might want to see a change and see what a Republican can do with the system," said Mr. Gunther, who owns a trucking company. "What's it going to hurt for four years to see what she or they [the Republicans] can do?"

Mr. Glendening and his champions respond that a tax cut of the magnitude espoused by Mrs. Sauerbrey could hurt a great deal -- sweeping like rolling thunder across an array of programs important to all citizens, not just the poor.

But Mr. Glendening may be facing something more subtle than a tax cut pledge, according to a number of fellow Democrats. They sense an electorate driven by disenchanted middle-class voters like Mr. Gunther who are looking for change and see Mrs. Sauerbrey as she portrays herself, as "the change agent."

"The [tax cut proposal] is a metaphor for shaking up the way things are done," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney, a Prince George's Democrat not running for re-election.

Del. John C. Astle, an Annapolis Democrat battling Republican Mary M. Rose for a state Senate seat, has detected a similar theme, that voters like the symbolism of the Sauerbrey tax cut pledge even though they doubt she can fully redeem it.

"I'm hearing a lot of people say, 'Look, I know she can't do it, but that's the right direction,' " said Mr. Astle. "I think it's struck a chord that resonates. I think there's a lot of dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs."

Another Annapolis Democrat, Del. Michael E. Busch, agreed. "People aren't interested in the details," he said. "People come up to me on the street and say, 'Listen, Ellen Sauerbrey is talking about cutting programs. Parris Glendening is talking about [new] programs. I don't want any more programs. I want my taxes cut. I want to spend my own money.' "

The shelf life of the Sauerbrey phenomenon will not be determined until Election Day, but the emotions that her candidacy has set loose in Maryland appear to reflect the mood of voters nationally.

A poll by the Times Mirror Center released last month painted a picture of an America that has become an increasingly bitter, frustrated and cynical place over the last seven years.

The poll found that only 33 percent of the public thinks that elected officials care about their beliefs, down significantly since the center began polling in 1987.

Only 42 percent now believe that government is run for the

benefit of all people, compared with 57 percent in 1987.

David Keene, a Washington-based Republican political consultant, described the national mood as "a growing outrage at government," and said Mrs. Sauerbrey may well have tapped into it.

What is really happening, political scientists say, is that voters stung by the recent recession and subsequent company downsizing are feeling more insecure financially, and they have lost patience with state spending that does not appear to benefit them personally.

But a Democratic officeholder, asking not to be identified by name, said selfishness was not at issue, but rather values.

"It is a deep-seated feeling that the country is slipping away from solid middle-class values," he said.

People who share those sentiments, he added, may "feel a vote for Sauerbrey empowers them."

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