Party lines blurred by endorsers

The Baltimore Sun

In the closely watched contest to fill the state Senate seat being vacated by Philip C. Jimeno, a conservative Republican engineer is self-funding his campaign against a former Democratic delegate.

Two of the four Republicans who ran against Bryan Simonaire in September's primary election, as well as Jimeno's GOP opponent in 2002, have endorsed Democrat Walt Shandrowsky, who served in the legislature from 1979 to 1982, saying they believed Shandrowsky would be a better state senator.

But Simonaire says he represents the values of District 31, which includes Glen Burnie, Brooklyn Park, Pasadena and part of Severna Park. He opposes gay marriage and abortion and supports gun rights, tighter restrictions on illegal immigrants, a locally elected school board and less government restriction on business.

"I've lived in this community for 38 years," said Simonaire, 43. "I'm a husband and father of seven kids. In Annapolis, we need a champion to stand for the average person. That's exactly why I'm running, and that's exactly what I feel I can do."

Shandrowsky, whom Jimeno is actively supporting, supports allowing slot machines at race tracks under certain conditions, and opposes a merger of Constellation Energy with Florida's FPL Group.

"We have all the issues [in District 31) that you have everywhere else: electricity costs, health care, congestion and every issue that exists in a metropolitan area," said Shandrowsky, 58, who has lived in Pasadena since age 10. "The public is just tired of the bickering, of the partisanship, of not getting the job done because one party's trying to upstage the other."

District 31 is among several state Senate seats that both parties believe are in play this election. Republicans have focused on Anne Arundel because voters in Anne Arundel County supported Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by a nearly 2-1 margin in 2002.

The GOP has gone after that race and others in the state in an effort to break the super-majority Democrats have in the General Assembly. Democrats now hold 33 of the 47 seats in the Senate; 29 votes are needed to override a veto or cut off a filibuster, so the Republicans would have to pick up five seats.

If the Republicans succeed in either the House or the Senate, the legislature that meets for the next four years could take on a decidedly different tone. With commanding majorities in both Houses, Democrats stifled many Ehrlich initiatives and overrode many of his vetoes.

Jimeno is stepping down after 28 years in the General Assembly. The two Republicans and one Democrat who represent the district as delegates all considered running to replace him, but decided against it.

Simonaire has never run for public office. He went into the final weeks of the election armed with $80,000 - almost all his own money - to spend in his campaign, more than 10 times what Shandrowsky had as of Sept. 1, according to data posted on the Maryland Board of Elections Web site.

He grew up in Pasadena and has lived there most of his life, involving himself with numerous community charities, coaching sporting events and chairing a local politics research committee. He was trained as a computer engineer and has a master's degree from Loyola College in Maryland. As a senior systems engineer at Northrop Grumman Corp., he was a military contractor in Saudi Arabia and also assisted with drug interdiction in Central America.

If elected, he will work to lower the tax burden on people in his district, Simonaire said. Specifically, he mentioned an "optional deferral" program that would allow those on fixed incomes to defer tax increases until their property sells so they're not priced out of the market.

He said Shandrowsky "represents ... business as usual, the tradition. I represent change."

Shandrowsky responded that he wants to emulate Jimeno as a senator.

"If he thinks dealing with other legislators in a manner like Phil Jimeno dealt with them, then guilty as charged," he said. "Jimeno is well-respected and well-liked by not only legislators in every district in the state, but also by his own constituents."

A former helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Shandrowsky is retired from his career as a manufacturer's representative, and recently celebrated his 40th year as a volunteer firefighter. He served in the General Assembly from 1979 to 1982, and lost that year in the Democratic primary race by 300 votes. Shandrowsky holds business degrees from Anne Arundel Community College and the University of Baltimore.

Although he's vastly outfunded by Simonaire, he said he will try to visit every registered voter in the district before the election, and noted the support of two of Simonaire's Republican primary opponents, Dutch Holland and Casey Robison. The other two, Mike Jacobs and Thomas Gardner, have not endorsed either candidate, and David Kyle, Jimeno's opponent in 2002, has endorsed Shandrowsky.

"I'm voting for the man I believe will best represent District 31," Kyle said. "Believe me, I'm taking a lot of flak for it. But I'm going off principles for what a candidate should be and how they should act."

Simonaire said other Republicans' decision to endorse Shandrowsky was based on old friendships, and that Shandrowsky is "confusing the public" by highlighting their support and claiming the support of other Republicans.

"I have the vast majority of Republican endorsements ranging from Governor Ehrlich to those running for county executive and House of Delegates," he said. "But the real issue is no matter who endorses a candidate, my opponent stands with the liberal Senate leadership in Annapolis who is funding his campaign and who continues to raise our taxes, burden our families and support the status quo."

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