THE RUN-UP to tomorrow's selection by Anne Arundel County's Republican Central Committee of someone to fill the state Senate seat of the late John A. Cade has revealed a nasty rift in the GOP. It has also taken some unexpected turns.
First was the notion that former delegate and county executive Robert N. Neall, a worthy candidate, was not conservative enough to fill the post. Then followed the recent description by some in the party of County Executive John G. Gary as a liberal renegade who needs to be disciplined by the GOP leadership.
Conservative activists, who have mobilized against Mr. Neall's candidacy in District 33, were incensed by Mr. Gary's offhand comment that when he had served with Ellen Sauerbrey in the legislature, he "spent most of [his] time keeping Ellen from going over the deep end."
A lot of people inside and outside of the party might agree with Mr. Gary's comments, but these activists don't want to hear any criticism of their heroine, as she prepares for a second run for governor. In fact, many of these same folks never forgave Mr. Cade for his complaints about Ms. Sauerbrey's behavior after she narrowly lost Maryland's gubernatorial election in 1994 and then attended national governors meetings as if she were the presumptive governor-elect. Mr. Gary's comment apparently reopened old wounds, and now some party faithful are clamoring for his censure.
The campaign against Messrs. Neall and Gary is ironic considering that they, and others, furthered the transformation of Anne Arundel's GOP from a minority party into one that now effectively controls the suburban county.
Perhaps most peculiar is the characterization of Mr. Gary as a disloyal conservative. Early in his career, Mr. Gary was seen as a "book burner" for mounting a campaign against materials he considered inappropriate in the public schools. When Mr. Gary realized that he would not accomplish much by remaining rigidly ideological, he began to compromise to have an impact on legislation. But he remained one of the county's most conservative legislators.
The selection of Mr. Cade's successor likely won't end this squabble. It may just intensify it. The danger is that this rift could create a fissure for the party that becomes impossible to close, just as it is gaining strength in Maryland.
Pub Date: 12/06/96