Joan M. Becker's first political campaign was at age 16, when she worked for the 1974 re-election of Democratic Gov. Marvin Mandel.
Her father, Frank Lupashunski, is a registered Democrat who taught sociology and government and politics for three decades at her alma mater, Howard High School, where Democratic state Sen. James N. Robey, a former county executive, was his student years earlier.
In a county of more than a quarter-million people, it is still not uncommon for these old personal connections to come up among people involved on all sides of public life.
"I taught [state] Sen. [Edward J.] Kasemeyer," the retired teacher known as "Mr. Lupe" recalled, as well as former District Judge Diane Schulte, and former county Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr.
Becker, who lives next to Western Regional Park in Glenwood, is the Howard County Republican Party's new chairwoman, and although her dad is a Democrat, he often votes Republican, both said.
Like some conservative Democrats, Lupashunski feels that his party has moved further to the left than he is comfortable with, which is why he voted for Republicans, including President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and more recently, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon in last year's county executive race.
Robey said the personal connections among county natives -- even of different political parties -- are not unusual.
"I'm even married to someone of the other political side," he said about his wife, Janet.
As executive, Robey dealt with Becker's unhappiness about some features of the big regional park the county built next to her property.
"We were able to work together," he said, referring to a committee of area residents he appointed to ameliorate complaints about the park.
Becker said she has worked over the years with several people serving in the Democratic administration of County Executive Ken Ulman.
"It's good that he's bringing in some newer people and a more friendly atmosphere," she said.
Becker, 49, a longtime real estate attorney in the county, said she started as a Democrat but changed during the Reagan administration.
"I represent a lot of businesses and self-employed people. My family were all government-employed people," including her two sisters, who are county public-school educators. But "you have a different philosophy when you are self-employed."
The ideas of fiscal responsibility, personal accountability and a work ethic that doesn't leave time for vacations put her firmly in the GOP camp, she said.
"One thing I feel really strongly about is personal responsibility and limited government," Becker said. "Government should only be involved in police, schools, fire -- not regulating things that private industry can take care of."
Private property rights is another big issue for her.
"Property rights are fundamental to our society," she said.
As GOP leader, Becker said, her job is to find quality candidates and boost a Republican comeback after the losses in the 2006 election.
"People were certainly down in the dumps after the election. It caught a lot of people by surprise," she said, referring to the defeat of Ehrlich, U.S. Senate candidate Michael S. Steele and Merdon and the loss of a County Council seat and a key Republican-held state Senate seat to Robey.
But now things are turning, she is convinced, partly because of unhappiness over the conduct and the results of the recent General Assembly special session and because of next year's presidential election.
"I think we're now starting to see a surge and excitement about getting involved," Becker said. "My role as chairperson is to get people re-energized. If we don't have a debate, we don't have a democratic society."
Becker favors former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for president and is a big Ehrlich fan, she said. She hopes Ehrlich will run against Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, in 2010.
"I haven't given up on Governor Ehrlich," she said. "I think he has the right ideas, motives and was leading us in the right direction. It's unfortunate he got caught up in the national wave" against Republicans.
Things will be different in the 2010 election, she said. By then, the currently unpopular presidential administration of George W. Bush will be long gone.
Even now, Becker said, the lessening of violence in Iraq is having an effect. "We've heard some good news from the war in Iraq. That good news has started to filter down, and people are realizing it wasn't totally a lost cause."
Even on fiscal matters, "Republicans [in Washington] weren't acting like Republicans," she said. "Frivolous spending" got out of control. "We need to get back on a budget again."
"The message we need to get to the people is that the Republican Party is alive and well in Howard County," Becker said.
County Democratic Chairman Michael McPherson said he does not know Becker, but he has a different view on the Iraq war and a possible Ehrlich comeback.
"I still hear people who are upset that we are over there," he said, especially because "we went into Iraq on a false assumption and are putting at risk a tremendous number of young people. We now find ourselves in a quagmire that seems to be going on and on."
As for Ehrlich, McPherson said, "I've always felt if you're a loser, you're a loser. I don't see Ehrlich running in the future" except perhaps for some "lesser office."