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  • A Bitter Campaign Reprise
  •   Candidate Ecker Cites His Experience

    Charles Ecker
    Charles I. Ecker
    (By Todd Cross/TWP)

    Q&A
    You can read a transcript of The Post's lunch interview with Charles I. Ecker.
    By Scott Wilson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, June 18, 1998; Page D05

    Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker (R) portrayed himself yesterday as a seasoned, moderate alternative to the leading contenders for Maryland governor, even though he acknowledged that many voters place his chances for success at "slim to none."

    Over lunch with Washington Post reporters and editors, Ecker distinguished himself from his rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, mostly on government experience and social issues.

    He said he was more moderate than Sauerbrey on abortion policy, although he said he would sign a bill outlawing controversial late-term procedures, and he vowed not to seek new restrictions on gun ownership.

    On gambling, Ecker condemned slot machines as promoting "social ills," noting that Sauerbrey has supported a referendum to allow voters to decide whether to allow slots in Maryland.

    Ecker, a cautious, grandfatherly figure, was more pointed when it came to the issue of competence. He said he turned a "fiscal nightmare" into budget surpluses during his eight years as Howard executive, a record he said Sauerbrey, as a former State House delegate, could not match.

    "I've been there, done that," Ecker said. "She's never done that. I've reduced government, I've balanced budgets, talked with CEOs, created jobs, created a business-friendly county. . . . I've actually done it, not just talked about it, and, hopefully, that will sell. I do not have a silver bullet."

    But in his support for lower income taxes, fewer regulations and stronger ethics oversight in Annapolis, Ecker sounded much like Sauerbrey, whom he trails badly in the polls. He did say he would propose legislation within the first two years of his administration to limit state lawmakers to two four-year terms and move even faster to trim state bureaucracy.

    By choosing social issues to set himself apart, however, Ecker has taken a risky tack with conservative voters, who form the backbone of the GOP primary electorate.

    Ecker acknowledged that finding a running mate has been difficult. He said he is looking in Montgomery County for someone with legislative experience, an area where he is less than expert. "I've had some nos, some maybes, and some want it," he said.

    Ecker vowed to run until the primary. But, he said, "the important thing [for the GOP] is what happens September 15."

    "I believe people will come together," Ecker said. If Sauerbrey wins, he pledged, "I will support her after the primary election."

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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