It was hardly an inquisition.
For more than an hour last night, the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee politely questioned the two candidates seeking to fill the state Senate seat left vacant last month by the death of John A. Cade.
No demonstrations outside the Maryland Legislative Services Building. No signs of protest in the hearing room. No partisan riffs.
The intraparty animosity leading up to last night's
question-and-answer session with former County Executive Robert R. Neall and Del. Robert C. Baldwin didn't turn nasty.
The 13-member committee will vote on its choice Saturday.
The Linthicum Boy Scout Troop attending the hearing to earn its civics merit badge was treated to Milquetoast politics after weeks of spicy debate between an old-guard party clique that favors Neall's candidacy for its fiscal common sense, and a conservative insurgency that has pushed for Baldwin as
someone who will stand up to, not collaborate with, State House Democrats.
The candidates, who have resurrected dormant factions within the Maryland Republican Party, agreed on almost everything last night.
They pledged allegiance to whoever wins the party's 1998 gubernatorial nomination, pledged to do their best to cut state income taxes without raising new ones and pledged to run for re-election in two years.
Baldwin, a first-term delegate, emphasized his opponent's resume as a former House Republican leader turned pro-business lobbyist and cast himself as a less flashy but competent legislator who has not spun through the Annapolis revolving door.
"I'm here because I think the Central Committee needs a choice" said Baldwin, a 62-year-old executive at Reliable Contracting in Crownsville.
"I haven't been endorsed by the Democrats. I haven't been canonized by" the newspapers," he said.
He continued: "I am a growing presence in the Republican Party. I have a lifetime of experience, not in office or in connection with the state government. But in life."
It is the sort of populist message that has given a charge to people such as Curtis Blades, a precinct captain in the 33rd District who favors Baldwin's long-shot candidacy.
"He's helped the party," Blades said. "I go to party functions, and he's there. I feel like if we want the party to grow, he is the one to do it."
Neall, 48, displayed his much-touted fiscal expertise on the matter of income tax cuts and said that, to send a signal that
Maryland is serious about lower taxes, the tax rate must be reduced rather than exemptions be added.
Neall proudly discussed his work as a lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. He said his work, in part, helped make income tax reduction an issue Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening plans to bring before the General Assembly next year.
Del. Phillip F. Bissett, an Edgewater Republican who chairs Anne Arundel's House delegation, is one member of the party's local establishment to endorse Neall's candidacy. He attended the hearing last night with about 50 other people.
"Mr. Neall's long record is much more impressive at this point," he said. "Delegate Baldwin is still learning. But it's important at this point in time that we have someone who is ready to roll that won't have a learning curve."
Whoever is selected Saturday will assume the $29,800-a-year post in time for the General Assembly session, which begins next month.
Neall, a favorite of the business community who conservatives fear will challenge 1994 GOP gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey in the 1998 primary, is expected to receive the committee endorsement after concerted lobbying by Anne Arundel's elected leadership on his behalf.
But shadowing the hearing was the recent debate that has transpired within the Republican Party. The argument is over which direction it will take leading to the 1998 elections: A moderate approach stressing accomplishment over partisan friction or an aggressive, emboldened challenge to Democrats that signal a growing party.
"We Republicans in Maryland have a history of attacking each other instead of attacking Democrats," said William Gillette, a committee member from Odenton. "What has happened over the last few weeks has done nothing to change that reputation."
Pub Date: 12/06/96