Howard County Republicans bared their internal divisions and their strong opinions last night as the county's state central committee interviewed five of the six candidates vying to replace Robert L. Flanagan in the Maryland House of Delegates but made no final choice.
Flanagan, who has represented Ellicott City and the western county since 1987, was unanimously recommended for confirmation as Maryland's transportation secretary by a state Senate committee late yesterday. A final Senate vote on his confirmation is expected Friday. His resignation from the House is expected after that.
Some committee members questioned the party loyalty of the two most prominent candidates, former county Councilman Charles C. Feaga and Carol Arscott, former county GOP chairwoman. Others made their feelings clear on everything from gun control to taxes.
"I hate taxes. I hate paying them. I hate what they're used to do," said Warren E. Miller, a central committee member and one of the six interviewed.
He said he is also opposed to County Executive James N. Robey's proposed transfer tax increase, the revenue from which would be used to pay for a training center for police officers and firefighters "and other frivolous things."
Feaga, a three-term county councilman and GOP pioneer in Howard County, said he would "call a halt to the Thornton Commission [on educational reforms] - back off of it," as one way to address the state's $1.2 billion budget shortfall.
"We can't afford 80 more classrooms [for all-day kindergarten] in Howard County," he said, adding that placing two more students in each county classroom would end the need for expensive new schools. "I know that's a no-no," he said.
Howard party Chairman Louis M. Pope asked Feaga why he did not support the party nominee for county executive in 1998, after a fractious primary fight. Feaga said he wasn't wanted and couldn't help but denied that he worked against Denis R. Schrader, the nominee beaten by Robey.
Arscott was asked why she helped the sitting judges in 1996, when most Republicans backed insurgent candidate Lenore Gelfman. She said Republicans had better hope that the sitting-judge principle, which holds that a governor's appointees are the best-qualified judges, survives now that a Republican is governor and will be naming judges for Democratic strongholds such as Prince George's County and Baltimore.
The competition for the appointment has been lively. The winner will serve nearly an entire four year term in a safe Republican seat.
The field of hopefuls expanded quickly, doubling from the initial three to six, after Flanagan was nominated last month by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Arscott, 47, a former Howard County Republican party leader with support from several elected officials, and Miller, 38, a management consultant and GOP state central committee member, were joined briefly by Brian Harlin, 36, an unsuccessful County Council candidate last year. Harlin withdrew within a week.
Then Feaga entered the fray, along with Richard S. Bernhardt, 44, an assistant Maryland attorney general, and John S. Taylor, 58, an attorney and former Drug Enforcement Administration official in Baltimore. Taylor did not attend last night's interviews.
The final entrant was Tommie Tarsell, 61, owner of an Ellicott City insurance agency who worked in the Bush presidential campaign in 2000 and Ehrlich's gubernatorial campaign last year.
Bernhardt acknowledged that he has no background in local Republican politics, but he said he has long experience as a lawyer and has drafted legislation and testified in Annapolis.
Tarsell said she has no objection to trigger locks but opposes some other gun control measures, including ballistic fingerprinting.
She talked about her 35 years as a businesswoman and the perspective she would bring. She opposes gun control, she said.