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Maryland's GOP rallies

November 20, 1998

Following the defeat of two top state senators by more conservative opponents and Ellen Sauerbrey's loss in the gubernatorial race, Maryland Republicans are regrouping to try to respond to the same old challenge - how to work with the Democratic majority without losing sight of their own party's agenda.

The dilemma the GOP faces was illustrated by the reaction of Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, D-Prince George's, to the news that the new leaders of the senate GOP caucus plan to give the group a stronger voice in state politics.

That's fine, Miller said, as long as individual Republican senators aren't barred from voting in opposition to caucus positions. If Democrats started voting as a caucus, "the Republican senate members would be relegated to oblivion."

Sen. Martin Madden, the new minority leader and Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, were quick to say that they're not proposing a confrontational approach, just a stronger statement of the party's core issues, like lowering taxes, improving schools and the economy.

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One of their biggest allies in that effort to strengthen the GOP message should be Michael Steele, a Prince George County's resident who ran unsuccessfully for state comptroller on Sauerbrey's ticket.

Steele has announced he wants to chair the state Republican party, and so far, no opponents have surfaced. He brings two important things to the table. He's a bona fide black leader at a time when Republicans' message seems lost on black voters in Maryland. And as the leader of a coalition which successfully opposed removal of the property-tax cap in Prince George's County, he assures party regulars he's not a tax-and-spend politician.

When Steele campaigned here, he said he had opposed giving local government more money because it couldn't prove it had been a good steward of what it had already been given. A little skeptical scrutiny of state-level spending might yield Steele and the GOP more than a dozen fights on the State House floor. We await the next General Assembly session with great interest.

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