By Kevin Mcnulty, Matthew Chin and Kirsten Frese
Marylanders say the Clinton-Lewinsky affair is the gravest issue facing Congress, but more than half of the 150 interviewed said they don’t think Congress should take action against the president, a Capital News Service survey reveals.
Improving public education was by far the leading issue voters said they wanted their federal and state officials to act on.
In interviews Oct. 1 in five regions of the state, 46 of those stopped for questioning said President Clinton’s “inappropriate” relationship with Monica Lewinsky is the most pressing business of Congress.
“Our president is a criminal,” said Keith Hall, 35, a Southern Baptist minister from Easton. “Perjury is a very serious crime – even if you are lying about sex.”
But when asked if Congress should take action against the president, only 64 of those interviewed said Congress should. Seventy-nine said Congress should leave Clinton alone; seven were undecided or did not answer.
“Let’s get this thing with the president over and shift the focus back on the people,” said Hattie Carter, 35, a Democrat and a Hagerstown housewife. “Make sure we have a future and stop dwelling on the past.”
Of the 64 who want Congress to act, 37 said Clinton should be impeached; 22 want a censure or other form of reprimand; three want an investigation of the allegations surrounding the president’s sexual relationship with the former White House intern; one said Congress should ask him to resign; and one said vaguely that Congress should “get it over with.”
Potential voters for the Nov. 3 general election were stopped randomly in shops, restaurants, churches and on sidewalks along the Eastern Shore; Western Maryland; Baltimore and its suburbs; Southern Maryland; and the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
Sixty-three of those stopped said they were Democrats; 43 Republicans; 28 independents; 16 other.
The group was about evenly split between men and women.
Besides Clinton’s problems, the next issue that voters overwhelmingly agreed needs lawmakers’ attention is education.
Twenty-six called it a key issue facing Congress; 41 said it is a key issue facing state officials.
Many said they were afraid the public schools couldn’t adequately teach their children.
“Our school systems are like alcoholics,” said Linda Sanders, 42, a clothing saleswoman in Salisbury. “They haven’t hit rock bottom yet, but they will.”
Some voters faulted the state for not paying teachers well enough to attract new talent. Others said Maryland has wasted its money on less-important projects.
Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening “is a bum who spent money on a stadium when we don’t have it for education,” said Janet Detrow, 77, a deli shop owner in Hagerstown who called herself an independent.
Maryland has rolled more than $633 million into school construction these past four years, almost double the amount spent the previous eight years, said Yale Stenzler, the state’s executive director for school construction.
The state’s scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress – a standardized test given every four years to fourth- and eighth-graders – are slightly better than average, said Ron Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Education Department.
“We find that most people [base their concerns] on anecdotal evidence, where they hear someone went to a fast food place and the cashier couldn’t make change,” Peiffer said.
The state ranked seventh of the 21 states that had 50 precent or more graduating seniors taking the SAT in 1998, said The College Board, which oversees the test many colleges use in admissions.
Other concerns voters cited repeatedly included crime and high taxes.
“Crime is slowly moving down here,” said George Yorty Jr., 66, a retired Navy worker in LaPlata.
Maryland State Police reported there were 7 percent fewer violent and property crimes statewide last year. But in St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles counties, where Yorty lives, violent and property crimes rose 1.6 percent, police reported.
Other Marylanders interviewed had strong opinions about gambling.
“I don’t see the difference between slots [machines] and lotto,” said Rob McConnell, 27, an assistant manager at an Eldersburg liquor store, arguing for the machines. “I see Delaware people thanking Maryland. We’re just helping their economy and not our own.”
Glendening firmly opposes casinos and slot machines in Maryland. Ellen Sauerbrey, his Republican challenger, has said she would consider slot machines at the state’s horse tracks to help the racing industry, “but it would take a great deal for her to decide slots are the answer,” said Anne Hubbard, a campaign spokeswoman.
Many said they were looking for an honest man – or woman.
“It’s usually just a matter of electing the least crooked one,” said Patricia Hoffman, 50, a Waldorf housewife.
Capital News Service reporters Sarah Anchors, Kayce Ataiyero, Amy Dominello, Tracy L. Fercho, Virginia F. McCord and Dan Odenwald contributed to this report. -30-