In what might be Baltimore County's hottest political race, first-term Republican Del. Kenneth Holt will challenge state Sen. Michael J. Collins, a 20-year Democratic veteran who played a key role in the ethics investigation that led to the ouster of former state Sen. Larry Young.
Republicans say the 6th District contest is a milestone in their prolonged effort to gain seats and influence in Maryland's heavily Democratic General Assembly -- and especially in eastern Baltimore County, where Democrats have dominated for decades.
"This is a barometer," said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the county's leading Republican officeholder, whose 2nd District covers eastern Baltimore and Harford counties.
It promises to be an uphill race for Holt, 46, a conservative investment banker from rural Bradshaw who will run on a Republican ticket with Ehrlich and Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the likely gubernatorial candidate.
Collins, 57, a retired Kenwood High School history teacher, spent more than 30 years in the classroom. He won priceless publicity this year as a leader of the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, whose investigations led to the expulsion of Young and the resignation of Del. Gerald J. Curran, both Baltimore Democrats.
Holt, who helped lead the unsuccessful fight for a proposed auto speedway in his district, took office four years ago with a strong showing in the district's two Harford County precincts. That offset his collective losses in Baltimore County, which has 21 precincts stretching from Essex to Fork.
Collins has the backing of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who last week pledged to "do everything I can to make sure he's re-elected."
While Holt praised Ruppersberger's efforts to renew the eastern county physically and economically, he said Collins is part of the old guard that needs changing.
"I believe I can achieve more as a state senator than as a delegate, and believe that it's time now for the voters of that district to have a real choice," Holt said.
He said he wants to return government to basic functions -- infrastructure and economic development. That message has played well in recent years in the 6th District, where residents of new suburban developments are increasingly conservative.
"Over the last 25 years, Essex and Middle River did not receive the attention, the money, the governance," Holt said of an area where thousands of industrial jobs have disappeared. "It was allowed to deteriorate in some areas. It wouldn't happen on my watch."
'Mettle under fire'
Collins, who served two terms as a delegate before becoming a state senator in 1986, has noted his long record and his prominent role this year on the Senate floor where he defended the decision to remove Young.
"The way I led the ethics committee this session proved the kind of mettle under fire that I have," said Collins, who also heads the county's Senate delegation.
In supporting Collins, Ruppersberger has said he wants to keep intact the legislative team that brought home $68 million for school construction in three years.
"What really disturbs me about [Holt's decision to run] is that we've put together a nonpartisan team to do what's best for the county. I would hope we could keep that momentum for another four years. That's one of the reasons I'm not running for governor," Ruppersberger said Wednesday evening at a Rosedale fund-raiser for county Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.
That evening, the county executive called Collins "Mr. Ethics."
Republicans are looking for good news after 1994, when they lost control of the County Council and the executive's office, despite capturing three House of Delegates seats from the Democrats. The GOP has one state Senate seat among 10 in the county, and seven delegate slots out of 27.
Baltimore County Republican Party Chairman Christopher R. West said that if Holt wins, "it will be a red-letter day for the party."
Ehrlich said he believes the growing independence of voters will offset the more than 2-1 Democratic dominance in registration. Voters in the 6th District "obviously feel alienated from the Democratic Party -- the Parris Glendenings of the world -- and they're willing to vote for a conservative Republican," Ehrlich said.
But that independence can cut both ways, as Collins is quick to point out.
'Process was hamstrung'
"Paul Sarbanes and Ellen Sauerbrey carried the district ," Collins said about the 1994 triumph of the Democratic U.S. senator. "People aren't voting party."
Holt said the defeat of the auto speedway proposed for Middle River -- a project approved in Anne Arundel County -- reveals the weakness in local leadership.
"Instead of an individual in power and in control being able to say, 'This project is vital to my area,' the process was hamstrung. It collapsed under all that bureaucracy. That's what I can't accept," he said.
"I intend to be part of an ascendancy of quality, talented young people to steer government and public policy in the future."
Pub Date: 5/17/98