WASHINGTON – Rep. Wayne Gilchrest likes to describe himself as an “informed pragmatist.”
First elected in 1990, Gilchrest, 49, of Kennedyville, has been called a fiscal conservative who strays from the GOP party line on environmental issues. But he does not like to be labeled.
“I don’t pay any attention to trends or a conservative or liberal bent,” said the Eastern Shore Republican, who faces five GOP challengers in the March 5 primary. “I try to be as pragmatic as I can be and look at an issue based on its merits.”
Chris West, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said Gilchrest’s voting record reflects that he is “very comfortable with who he is and what he stands for.”
He called Gilchrest “a perfect match for that district.” He added, “Our estimate at this point is that he will coast through the election.”
David Paulson, communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party, responded, “I guarantee you that if he coasts in the campaign, he loses in the election.”
One key issue where Gilchrest often differs with the GOP leadership is the environment.
“That’s the one area of contention he’s had with the party leadership,” said Jim Gimpel, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
The League of Conservation Voters gave Gilchrest a score of 77 for 1995. This means he voted in favor of environmental issues identified by the LCV, a bipartisan national organization, 77 percent of the time.
Rep. Constance Morella of Bethesda was the only Maryland House Republican to score higher. She received a 92. Gilchrest easily beat out Rep. Robert Ehrlich, of Lutherville, who received a 38; and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, of Frederick, who received an 8.
Gilchrest voted against anti-environmental provisions in a funding bill that the league said would have crippled the Environmental Protection Agency. He also voted against rollbacks on the Clean Water Act and a regulatory reform bill that would have overridden 25 years of environmental protection, the league reported.
But he voted against federal funding of renewable energy sources – such as solar energy – that was part of President Clinton’s proposed 1996 budget, the report said.
Many of the bills sponsored by Gilchrest pertain to the environment. In the last Congress, he introduced bills to reduce domestic overfishing and protect wetlands, concerns to residents in his 1st District. In this session, he has sponsored bills to protect dolphins and endangered species.
When it comes to the budget, Gilchrest is more in line with the Republican Party. He voted for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and to trim $90 billion from the federal budget over five years.
“Anything dealing with the budget and government programs I view like a car’s engine that needs fine-tuning,” Gilchrest said. “Environmental issues are like the body. Once you make a mistake, it’s hard to repair.”
Gilchrest defends budget cutting as responsible government. “I really do believe we need to be much more frugal in the way we spend the money that people work for,” he said.
Among the bills Gilchrest said he will bring to the House floor in the next few weeks is a proposal to restrict funds for the construction of federal courthouses, which he believes have been excessive and misappropriated in many cases.
Paulson criticized Gilchrest for being a “Gingrich Republican” who has repeatedly voted with items in the House speaker’s Contract With America.
Yet Gimpel, who wrote a book about the Contract With America, said the contract may have led many Republicans to cast votes they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“The contract was a special effort to display unusually high party unity. The Republicans wanted to prove to everyone that they could govern together,” Gimpel said.
Another indicator of Gilchrest’s voting patterns is the number of times he voted with his party on legislation that divided Democrats and Republicans. In 1995, his party unity score was 80, up from 72 in 1994, according to Congressional Quarterly.
But, Gimpel said: “There are an awful lot of House members on the Republican side with scores close to 100. He’s definitely not in the most conservative bloc of the party.”
In 1994, Gilchrest defeated Democrat Ralph Gies, a 71-year- old Gambrills accountant, with 68 percent of the vote. Gies is among the seven Democratic challengers competing March 5 for Gilchrest’s seat.
The others are: James Brown, 47, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program supervisor from Denton; Nancy Centofante, 41, a Chestertown physician; Janice Lynn Graham, 59, a Galena bed and breakfast owner; Steven Eastaugh, 43, a George Washington University public health and economics professor; Michael Maloney, 56, of Cambridge, a Dorchester County state’s attorney; and John Rea, 35, an Annapolis salesman.
The five Republicans challenging Gilchrest in his primary are: Thomas Anderson, 52, a Berlin electrician and poultry farmer; Robert Gawthrop, 31, of Baltimore, a former high school teacher and co-founder of the nonpartisan “Generation X Organization;” James Timothy King, 40, a Pocomoke City poultry farmer; Bradlyn McClanahan, 45, of Annapolis, president of Disabilities Resources Inc.; and James Plack, 46, of McDaniel, a furniture store manager. -30-