ANNAPOLIS – Helen Kadlec tells of pranks she pulled with her roommate at Western Maryland College.
State Del. Wade Kach, a Baltimore County Republican, tells of a woman in his district showing him a wedding invitation she has held onto for more than 30 years, because she liked the bride so much. The bride was Ellen Richmond; she took the last name of her husband, Wilmer Sauerbrey.
Friends, neighbors and colleagues of GOP gubernatorial nominee Ellen Sauerbrey like to talk about how friendly and down- to-earth she is. Political analysts say Sauerbrey has worked in the last four years to show these attributes to voters – after tarnishing her image immediately after the 1994 governor’s race, when she persisted in contesting her loss.
“The fact that this race is in a dead heat shows she has shed her `sour grapes’ image,” said Del Ali, senior vice president of Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc., a Columbia polling firm.
Sauerbrey lost the 1994 governor’s race to Democrat Parris N. Glendening by 5,993 votes. A Mason-Dixon poll conducted in January 1995 showed 50 percent of voters polled viewed Sauerbrey unfavorably – compared to only 19 percent of voters who felt that way just before the election, in October 1994.
A poll conducted this month by the same polling firm shows 38 percent of voters now view Sauerbrey unfavorably – just slightly more than Glendening’s 37 percent.
Sauerbrey, 61, of Baltimore County, said she has worked at letting voters get to know her.
“Most people didn’t know who I was” in 1994, she said in a recent interview. “The perception they got was from my opponent. … In the four years since, people have been able to find out more about me,” she said.
But Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Peter Krauser said Sauerbrey is disguising herself.
“She’s tried desperately to portray Ellen Sauerbrey not as the right-wing zealot she is, but as a moderate,” he said. “That’s like trying to dress up Darth Vader as Princess Leia.”A LIFE-LONG MARYLANDER
Sauerbrey grew up in Baltimore and went to Western Maryland College, graduating summa cum laude with a double degree in biology and English. She married her high school sweetheart and taught in the Baltimore County public schools for five years.
One of her students, Kevin McCaughey, 51, said Sauerbrey made an impression. “We thought we had it made when we saw a new teacher,” McCaughey said. “But she never finished second best.”
Sauerbrey gave up teaching in the mid 1960s to concentrate on starting a family.
She disclosed after the ’94 campaign she was unable to have children because of medical reasons. It’s a subject she finds difficult to discuss.
“It’s painful,” Sauerbrey said. “It’s not easy to talk about. But some of my friends told the press after the election, and it became a public issue.”
Kadlec attended both Towson High School and Western Maryland College with Sauerbrey. They continue to see each other every New Year’s Eve.
“It was difficult for Ellen,” Kadlec said. “We were all starting to have families. But it’s something I’ve always admired about Ellen,” she said. “She accepted it and put her energies into other things.”
Sauerbrey began her political career as a campaign worker for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.
Later, a 1968 visit to her husband’s family in East Germany sent Sauerbrey down a path she hopes will lead her to the governor’s mansion in Annapolis.
“When I visited East Germany, I realized how poor people were there,” Sauerbrey said. She said in comparing East and West Germany, she saw the damage a controlling government can do. “It was a great lesson in contradictions.”TO THE STATE HOUSE
Sauerbrey began working in 1973 as a writer and researcher for former state Del. George Price, a Republican. She also held positions in several state and national Republican Party organizations.
An open seat in Baltimore County’s 10th District and some urging from those in the Republican Party brought Sauerbrey to the House of Delegates in 1978. She served four consecutive terms and developed a reputation as a conservative voter on legislative issues.
She voted against a ban on selling Saturday-night specials and assault weapons in Maryland and opposed public financing for both stadiums in Baltimore. She also voted to restrict Medicaid funding for abortions.
In 1986, Sauerbrey was elected House minority leader, a position she held for eight years. “I helped turn the Republican minority into a force to be reckoned with,” she said.
When she entered the House of Delegates, there were only 17 Republicans out of the 141 seats. When she left in 1994 after two terms as minority leader, there were 41 Republican delegates in the house. Some colleagues credit Sauerbrey with the Republican surge.
If elected governor, Sauerbrey said she would work to lower the personal income tax, abolish parole for all violent criminals, build an Intercounty Connector linking Interstate 95 to I-270 and require teachers to use phonics as the primary method to teach reading.
Although opposed to abortion and gun control, Sauerbrey said she would keep existing laws in place, but would sign legislation banning late-term, or partial-birth, abortions and veto any new gun-control laws.
Kach disagrees with critics who say Sauerbrey has changed her views since 1994, noting that she represented one district out of 47 and would represent all districts if elected governor.
“I don’t think there’s been a change in her core values or views, but rather she’s adopting to her constituency,” the delegate said.
“Ellen Sauerbrey’s message has been very clear, if you get beyond the smoke screen,” Krauser said. “What she’s done in the past is what she’ll do in the future,” he said. “All you have to do is look at her record.”
Sauerbrey said if she wins, she plans on splitting time between the house in Baldwin she shares with her husband and the governor’s mansion in Annapolis.
“My husband wants to live in the house that he loves,” she said.