Maryland's U.S. Senate race has descended into a contest of 15- and 30-second television commercials with each candidate implying that the other is a carpetbagger or soft on crime. But behind the calculated media campaign lies a choice between two thoughtful, respected politicians with strong disagreements on some of the major issues of the day.
Incumbent Paul S. Sarbanes is an unrepentant liberal Democrat and a strong defender of social programs. Challenger Bill Brock, a one-time Southern conservative and opponent of civil rights legislation, says he has evolved into a moderate Republican reformer.
While fellow liberals such as Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo are struggling to keep their jobs, Mr. Sarbanes appears to be defying this year's conventional wisdom that entrenched Democrats are an endangered species. A poll released last week showed him with a 25-point lead over his opponent.
Mr. Sarbanes and Mr. Brock take distinctly different approaches to such topical issues as term limits and welfare reform. On three of the major bills passed in the past two years -- the Clinton deficit reduction package, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the crime bill -- they would have voted differently.
Mr. Sarbanes opposes term limits, offers few specifics on welfare reform and voted against NAFTA. Mr. Brock calls for "drastic" change in the welfare system, thinks the Clinton deficit reduction package will only slow the economic recovery and says the crime bill wasn't tough enough.
Although they agree on some points -- a woman's right to an abortion and a ban on assault weapons -- many of their differences appear rooted in their disparate backgrounds.
Mr. Brock grew up as a multimillionaire heir to a candy company that he helped run before becoming a congressman and U.S. senator from Tennessee and later a Cabinet member in the Reagan administration. A supporter of supply-side economics and an avid free trader, he preaches limited government and the virtues of market competition.
The son of Greek immigrants from Salisbury, Paul Spyros Sarbanes went to Princeton, Harvard and Oxford on financial aid and scholarship. He is a great admirer of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and deeply values government's roles as a safety net and defender of the disadvantaged. Perhaps because of that -- as well as his legendary political caution -- he speaks only vaguely about reforming a welfare system that many want to overhaul.
In June, President Clinton laid out a reform plan that included a two-year limit on cash benefits for single parents 18 and older. He also recommended allowing states to cap benefits for women who have additional children while receiving assistance.
When asked for his position on those measures recently, Mr. Sarbanes appeared to know little about them. "I'm in favor of moving people off of welfare and onto work, but how you do it is a very complicated process," he said. "That's the issue we're going to deal with in the next Congress."
A former U.S. secretary of labor, Mr. Brock has very specific ideas about welfare reform, which include removing people from the rolls after 30 or 60 days and putting them to work for local governments. He supports allowing states to cap benefits
for women who have more children, as well as other measures.
Having worked to promote international commerce as U.S. trade representative, Mr. Brock supported NAFTA, which lowered trade barriers with Mexico and Canada. Mr. Sarbanes -- who receives large campaign contributions from organized labor -- voted against the agreement last year. He said he feared that it would encourage U.S. companies to move manufacturing plants Mexico, taking jobs with them.
Mr. Brock followed the NAFTA debate closely -- his former consulting company, the Brock Group, received more than $1 million to advise Mexico on the trade agreement. He saw NAFTA as a job producer. To prove his point, he cited recent U.S. Department of Commerce figures that show an increase of at least 10 percent in exports to both countries.
Mr. Sarbanes countered that the new exports to Mexico may include equipment to open factories that can take advantage of
Together, the two candidates have a combined 38 years of experience in Congress, but disagree on how to reform an institution that many hold in low esteem.
Mr. Brock -- who served 14 years in Congress -- supports term limits to help infuse Capitol Hill with new blood. He said too many legislators put power and re-election before principle. At 63, he pledges to stay no longer than two terms. "I don't have to worry about re-election," he said. "I can go in there for one term and just raise Cain, get the job done and let somebody else have it."
Mr. Sarbanes, who has spent the past 24 years on Capitol Hill, sees term limits as an anti-Democratic gimmick. At 61, he gives no indications of retiring.
"I think term limits is a derogation of the sovereignty of the voter," he said. "Suppose the voter says, 'I want to keep this person in?' I'm going back to the people for a fourth term asking for them to repose their confidence in me. I don't think I've ever abused that trust."
In recent weeks, Mr. Brock has tried to tie the incumbent to Mr. Clinton, who has a low popularity rating nationally. It is not hard to do. Mr. Sarbanes sided with the president 98 percent of the time on party-line votes last year. Mr. Brock has attacked the senator specifically on his vote to pass the Clinton deficit reduction package, which included $241 billion in net tax increases that hit corporations and wealthy people the hardest.
Mr. Brock opposed the plan as bad for the economy. Instead, he calls for a tax cut for small businesses to create jobs that, he says, in turn would generate more tax revenue for the government. To help balance the budget, he recommends capping many spending programs, including entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.
But a similar attempt at supply-side economics in the 1980s profoundly deepened the national debt, which now stands at $4.2 trillion. Critics say the plan failed because Congress enacted tax cuts but would not control spending for programs that constituents liked.
Mr. Brock says young reformers who have come to Congress in && recent years are showing a willingness to make those tough decisions. "What they need," he said, "is some leadership."
Mr. Sarbanes calls some of Mr. Brock's tax proposals self-serving. For instance, Mr. Brock wants to repeal a retroactive tax on the nation's wealthiest people. "That's the tax that happens, of course, to hit him very hard personally," he said.
During the Reagan years, the rich enjoyed substantial tax breaks and now they should help reduce the deficit, Mr. Sarbanes said. "My whole political career has been fighting for working people, middle-income people," he said. "That's a fundamental
difference between me and Brock. William Emerson Brock III comes out of different milieu."
Asked if he were making class an issue in the race, Mr. Sarbanes said no, but he added: "I think that working people, middle-income people are going to have to take a careful reading of the two and decide which one is more committed to their
Family: Wife, Sandy. Four children, two stepchildren.
Education: B.S., Washington and Lee University.
Political experience: U.S. House of Representatives, 1963-1971. U.S. Senate, 1971-1977. U.S. trade representative and secretary labor in Reagan administration.
Other experience: Former head of the Brock Group, an international trade consulting firm.
PAUL S. SARBANES
Family: Wife, Christine. Three children.
Education: A.B., Princeton University; B.A., Oxford University; LL.B., Harvard University.
Political experience: Maryland House of Delegates, 1967-1971. U.S. House of Representatives, 1971-1977. U.S. Senate, 1977-present.
Other experience: Lawyer in private practice in Baltimore.
ON THE ISSUES:
Term limits: Mr. Brock, who served 14 years as a congressman and senator from Tennessee, supports them as a way of opening up an elective process that heavily favors incumbents. Mr. Sarbanes, who has served in Congress for 24 years, opposes term limits, saying they deny voters a fundamental right of choice.
International trade: Both men support the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, which is designed to lower trade barriers and open world markets. They disagree on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Mr. Sarbanes said might take away U.S. jobs and Mr. Brock argued would create them.
Health care reform: Mr. Brock opposes a large-scale overhaul of the system, favoring a more incremental approach that includes protection for people with pre-existing conditions. Mr. Sarbanes said he supported many of President Clinton's goals for health care reform, but had concerns about creating more bureaucracy DTC and hurting businesses by mandating that they provide insurance.
International affairs: Both men support Mr. Clinton's quick response to the Iraqi troop build-up on the Kuwaiti border. Mr. Brock opposed an invasion of Haiti, saying the United States did not have a national interest there. Mr. Sarbanes said the president should have sought congressional approval before sending troops but thinks that since then he has handled the situation well.
Campaign finance reform: Mr. Brock wants to do away with political action committees and supports setting aside television broadcast time for political parties to reduce the cost of campaigning. Mr. Sarbanes says he favors campaign finance reform, but he refuses to "unilaterally disarm" and continues to draw more than 35 percent of his funds from PACs.
U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Republican challenger Bill Brock square off tonight at 8 p.m. in a one-hour debate on Maryland Public Television (Channels 22 and 67). Tomorrow, they meet again for a debate at 8 p.m. on WNUV-TV (Channel 54).