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Statewide contests


THE CONTESTS for statewide offices in the Sept. 10 primary hadn't produced much in the way of fireworks before the comptroller's race started to crackle last week. And even then, the excitement was over a niggling political squabble - not substantive issues.

Following are The Sun's primary picks for governor, attorney general and comptroller.

Governor: Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have had their respective parties' nominations sewn up since the day they entered the race - and there's little question that either is the best choice for the fall contest. Still, neither has impressed so far with plans for education, the state budget, health care or any other issues that matter to Marylanders.

The fall showing for each needs to be much better.

Attorney general: Incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr. faces no primary opposition, but two Republicans would like to unseat him in November.

Edwin MacVaugh accuses Mr. Curran of occupying the office for too long and - more important - leaning too far to the left, especially with regard to gun laws. He would roll back the office's aggressive stance on Maryland's tough gun ownership laws.

Jeffrey N. Pritzker is a better choice. Mr. Pritzker believes Mr. Curran has politicized the attorney general's office and has relied too much on outside counsel to handle attorney general matters. He also believes that Mr. Curran should have more closely advised Gov. Parris N. Glendening about redistricting, and that the attorney general should have investigated the meteoric rise of Mr. Glendening's former paramour (now wife) to a top-level state job.

Comptroller: This race attracted national attention last week, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening clumsily inserted himself as an issue by running ads on behalf of candidate John T. Willis (now secretary of state) that accused William Donald Schaefer of being insensitive to women and ethnic minorities.

The flap was just the sort of engagement Mr. Schaefer relishes and typical of Mr. Glendening's ham-handed political maneuvering - but it didn't have much to do with the issues in this race.

The comptroller is chiefly the state's tax collector and an important fiscal check on the governor and legislature. And the truth is that Mr. Schaefer has done a fine job in that role. Nothing suggests he won't continue that work if re-elected.

Mr. Willis, though a dedicated public servant, has not offered evidence that he can perform the comptroller's duties any better. He has no real criticisms of Mr. Schaefer's work, only his demeanor. And worse, he has allowed his campaign to be hijacked by Mr. Glendening's bizarre desire to inaccurately depict Mr. Schaefer as some kind of doddering, misogynist bigot.

Democrats shouldn't be fooled by Mr. Willis' callow and nasty campaign. Mr. Schaefer is their best choice.

Republicans should choose Gene Zarwell, who would work to bring greater efficiencies to the comptroller's tax collection efforts.

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