Political Games Could Get Nastier


These are, needless to say, not cozy times for Democrats and Republicans.

With talk in Washington about compromise and cooperation, one senses that a shaky truce is about to collapse like the palace gates overrun with rabble.

Any minute, it will be open warfare that puts an end to all this cordial pretense.

With all the uncertainty associated with negative campaigning -- can someone tell me whether it really helps or hurts? -- you might think that our political leaders would be reticent about embarking on a course that promises to end in an ugly blood bath.

Then there are the likes of Newt Gingrich, who has the bearing of a man who has finally gotten that inheritance he has been so long denied.

It's all a rehearsal for the next election. Some sagas, however, are wrenching experiences with lasting impact, and this one has eerie promise.

Part of it, of course, is the suspense. Even locally, where the Republican revolution never quite prevailed, the battle lines are being drawn.

Howard County has played its own role in the churning events. With its Republican county executive and Republican-dominated state legislative delegation, Howard is being looked on as a testing ground for the new, emerging politics.

Witness the reaction of Montgomery County Democrats who, two days after the election two weeks ago, barred Howard County Republican Dels. Robert L. Flanagan and Robert H. Kittleman from Montgomery's House delegation meetings.

xTC The problem with this is that Mr. Kittleman and Mr. Flanagan, in addition to their duties in Howard, represent about 5,400 residents in northern Montgomery County.

Montgomery Del. Dana Dembrow, the Democrat who moved to force out the Howard Republicans, says he did so because it's unfair that two delegates represent so few people, while the average citizen-delegate ration elsewhere in Montgomery County is approximately 35,000-to-1.

That's a weak excuse to deny 5,400 people representation. This is a partisan power play. If nothing else, it strengthens the Democrats majority in the Montgomery delegation.

The larger question is, of course, what will this mean for the rest of the state?

Will similar territorial moves be made in other places around the state where jurisdictional lines cross?

Will this ultimately end up being decided after a full debate in Annapolis?

The tea-leaf readers suggest that House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. will step in and put an end to all this before it gets that far. But I'm not one for reading tea leaves. Whether this scrap over who attends whose delegation meetings ever amounts to anything, one thing is clear: The politics of the future will not be pretty.

Democrats could hardly feel comforted by Parris N. Glendening's squeaker of a victory in the governor's race. And Republicans are more than a little upset about their hands being slapped back when they were within inches of the cookie jar.

Also keep in mind that there are two prominent politicians in both these camps who hail from Howard County.

Mr. Flanagan happens to be the attorney helping Ellen Sauerbrey in her challenge of the election results, while Democratic county councilman C. Vernon Gray appears to be in line for a position within the Glendening administration.

Don't be fooled by any of the high-minded pleasantries that may pass between these two. They are passionate partisans with a great deal at stake in what the future holds politically.

In another matter, Howard County could prove an interesting testing ground for the effort to allow voluntary prayer in public schools.

We're a long way from a constitutional amendment and ratification by the states, but the possibility of sanctioned prayer must have school officials wondering how they will respond.

Although Howard County has not been a stronghold for the religious right, this is an issue that will almost certainly put those who are here in the spotlight.

Likewise, liberal and religious groups who feel strongly about the separation of church and state are bound to jump into the fray.

Howard County has a history of accommodating a variety of trends and cultures, but this is a development that could test the community's resolve. Addressing the religious needs of a community as diverse as Howard's will require considerable skill.

The school system's current policy on religion and prayer is somewhat ambiguous, with statements about a person's religious beliefs being neither promoted nor discouraged in the schools. There is no organized or sanctioned prayer. If the Republicans have their way, this policy will have to be retooled to reflect national policy and the will of the community.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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