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GOP gubernatorial candidate offers leadership

March 14, 1998

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker knows former state Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey is the current favorite to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Maryland.

"She's the front-runner, no doubt about it," Ecker said during an interview in Hagerstown Friday.

But, Ecker added, Sauerbrey has had an advantage because she has been running for the state House ever since narrowly losing to then-candidate Parris N. Glendening in 1994.

Ecker, 69, said he has been spending the past four years doing what he has been doing since 1990 - running the state's sixth-largest county. And that is his advantage, he said.

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"I think the state wants leadership. I think they want someone who has a proven, successful track record," he said.

For Ecker, a Carroll County native, most of his track record has been in the classroom. He was a teacher and administrator in various state school systems for 36 years before retiring as Howard County's assistant superintendent of schools in 1989.

He was then urged by county Republican leaders to run for county executive and surprised many political observers when he won.

"I'm an educator by profession, a politician by accident, I guess," he said.

Ecker said he has used his education background to promote schools in his county and would continue to do so as governor. He said he believes strongly in getting children to read at a young age and making sure students are prepared for the next grade before promoting them.

"I think kids can learn if we expect them to. We don't expect enough," he said.

Like Sauerbrey, Ecker considers himself a pro-business fiscal conservative who believes the state should be doing more to attract good-paying jobs. He cited Howard County's efforts to streamline processes that make it easier for companies to open in the county.

"We want to make their contact with the county as short and as brief as possible," Ecker said.

But he said he and his GOP rival differ in how much less government there should be. Ecker said be believes welfare-to-work programs are needed to ensure there are well-trained workers for the private sector.

"Government shouldn't be there to solve problems because it needs to be. Government should be there to solve problems when all else fails," he said.

One place where government should have stepped in to help was the unsuccessful effort to have Maryland join a compact of northeast states in setting milk prices for farmers.

Legislation to have the state join the compact was defeated by a state Senate committee earlier this week, despite objections from farmers who said the bill was needed to slow down the number of dairy farms going out of business.

Ecker agrees.

"We're preserving farmland but we're not preserving farmers," he said.

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