By Kevin Mcnulty, Sarah Anchors, Amy Dominello and andrew O’Day
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening and GOP nominee Ellen Sauerbrey clashed over gun-control, abortion and civil rights in the campaign’s first and perhaps only debate before the Nov. 3 election.
Sauerbrey also blasted Glendening for “flip-flopping” on several issues, including abortion, his support for President Clinton and a proposal to build a new highway connecting Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
“No one knows where Parris stands because he stands with his finger to the wind, always testing the polls,” Sauerbrey said.
Glendening railed against Sauerbrey’s voting record during her 16 years in the Maryland legislature and said her proposals have been bad for the state.
“The record is, every anti gun-violence bill, she voted against, and campaigned against a referendum. We stood strong to make our community safe,” Glendening said.
The abortion issue prompted sharp exchanges. Sauerbrey said Glendening, who has received endorsements from abortion-rights groups, supported a 1981 bill while a member of the Prince George’s County Council that would have ended county funding for abortions performed in county hospitals.
“I’ve been consistent. When Parris Glendening was in Prince George’s County in 1981, he was a pro-life leader,” she said.
Glendening responded, “Twenty years ago, I did have some different views. And so did much of the country. Then we thought it through. The country thought it through. And for the last 15 years, I have fought for a woman’s right to choose.”
Sauerbrey said despite what Glendening has said about her views, she would not try to erode Maryland’s existing abortion laws. “I will uphold the law. Parris Glendening knows I’m not going to change the abortion law,” she said.
Glendening slammed Sauerbrey on her civil rights record, saying she opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1992, which would have made sexual harassment by employers illegal, strengthened civil rights protections and protected women and minorities against discrimination.
Sauerbrey said Glendening was blaming the wrong person. She said the Democratic- controlled legislature opposed it. And, she added, “Parris Glendening, by the way, has done nothing [as governor] to get that civil rights bill passed that he attacked me for killing.”
A Sauerbrey spokeswoman, Carol Hirschburg, said after the debate that Sauerbrey opposed the bill because it did not define sexual harassment clearly and would have led to a deluge of sexual harassment lawsuits.
Among the Glendening flip-flops that Sauerbrey pointed to was his position on the InterCounty Connector, which could join Interstate 95 in Laurel and Interstate 270 in Gaithersburg.
Sauerbrey said, “Four years ago, Parris Glendening said that the ICC was his No. 1 infrastructure priority, and I’m here to tell you, for me it still is.”
More recently, Sauerbrey said, Glendening decided against building the road, citing environmental concerns.
“This region is in gridlock today – it will be in crisis tomorrow,” Sauerbrey said.
Glendening said Maryland needs a comprehensive plan for mass transit and highways, but added the ICC was not the way to go. “Four years ago, I supported the ICC. Then I started looking at the devastating environmental impact that would come from this.” He criticized spending $82 million studying the issue.
On gun control, Sauerbrey said she wouldn’t overturn the state’s laws. “I think the issue for all of us is how to end gun violence,” she said. Sauerbrey proposed ending parole for violent criminals and building more prisons.
Glendening bashed Sauerbrey’s votes on gun-control bills. “We supported the ban on assault weapons. My opponent opposed it. Why should anyone be walking through our neighborhoods with an AK-47?” he asked.
Sauerbrey declared that she has not accepted one cent from the National Rifle Association, as Glendening campaign ads say. “Parris Glendening receives money from the Beretta Corp., the largest manufacturer in Maryland of Saturday-night specials,” she said.
Integrity was also a major theme at the debate at the University of Maryland, College Park.
When asked about the prominent Democrats who have endorsed the Republican nominee – including James T. Brady, Glendening’s former secretary of the Department of Business and Economic Development, former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and unsuccessful primary opponent Dr. Terry McGuire – Glendening said he was unperturbed. “This election is not about personalities, or about who is endorsing whom. This election is about fundamental issues.”
He added: “I don’t care if some former elected officials are with us or not. I care about the people.”
Sauerbrey responded, “Integrity is everything. And that’s the principle issue in this campaign.”
She said Glendening demonstrated his true character on his treatment of President Clinton this summer. First, she said, Glendening avoided appearances in Maryland with the president. Then, “when it looked like the president’s reputation was doing better than his own, all of a sudden Parris Glendening was inviting him back in.”
Both candidates stressed their teaching credentials and blue-collar upbringings, and Sauerbrey reminded viewers that, if elected, she would be the first woman governor in Maryland.
It is unclear if the debate will have much effect on the race’s outcome. “I do not think either was damaged, I think they both held their own,” said Donald F. Norris, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “And I don’t think either made any mistakes.”