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  •   Transcript of Sauerbrey Interview

    Ellen Sauerbrey on the campaign trail.
    Ellen Sauerbrey (right) on the campaign trail. (File Photo)

    June 29, 1998

    Ellen R. Sauerbrey, 60, grew up in Baltimore and taught high school biology. She lives in Baltimore County and first became active in politics as a volunteer for Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. She ran for the House of Delegates in 1978 and served four terms, the last two as minority leader.

    While in Annapolis, Sauerbrey made her reputation as a conservative, partisan force, trying to establish the Republicans as an opposition party to the Democrats who have long dominated state politics.

    She came from behind to capture the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1994 but lost to Democrat Parris N. Glendening by fewer than 6,000 votes in the general election. Since then, she has served as GOP national committeewoman, chaired Sen. Phil Gramm's 1996 presidential campaign in Maryland and began girding for a possible rematch with Glendening. She is seeking the GOP nomination again.

    She met last month with Washington Post editors and reporters. The following is a transcript of the conversation. Interviews with other gubernatorial candidates also are appearing in The Post's Maryland Weeklies and on our Web site.

    Q: [Some] view the Maryland state government as a device for tipping money from the pockets of people from Prince George's and Montgomery counties to Baltimore City – and they look at another candidate from that part of the state and think why will you be any different?

    A: It's interesting that while I was in the legislature I often wondered why Montgomery and Prince George's County legislators were always sending, with the formulas that they supported, were always sending the money of their constituents away from their region, and [I] used to talk about wouldn't it make sense to develop some sort of a suburban coalition. I always felt that Baltimore County, that I represent, had a great deal in common with Montgomery County, for example, and yet we couldn't seem to work together on issues in a way that would strengthen the rapidly growing suburbs.

    I share the belief, particularly, that Montgomery County has been the cash cow for the state and I understand the resentment that voters in Montgomery County feel, particularly as the county has become more urbanized, has developed many more problems of its own, especially the school system, and I think justifiably feels that it needs to maintain more of its resources at home. And I support that.

    Q: Are today's formulas on school construction, highways and other state government priorities equitable?

    A: No. No, I believe that they do not recognize the rapidly growing suburban regions appropriately and that those formulas need to be revised. But I also think that they have been dramatically politicized in the last four years in a way that I never saw happen in the 16 years that I was in the legislature. Money is withheld in the distribution of school funding, instead of being allocated at the beginning of the legislative session, a large bit of it is held back until the end of the legislative session, so that school construction money can be used as a club, or as a bribe, in order to achieve political goals.

    Certainly, the biggest example and most prominent example of that was with funding for the stadium, where Montgomery County was given additional money at the end. One of my commitments is to develop a fair formula, but also to ensure that that formula is followed and that the process is not a political reward for votes on pet bills or votes upcoming in the next election.

    Q: So you're saying the funding formula should be changed to reflect, to give higher priority to the more rapidly growing counties?

    A: Yes.

    Q: And you're also saying that you think the government has been holding back allocated monies during the session to punish legislators who don't support him in his legislative priorities? Is that what you're suggesting?

    A: Well I'm suggesting, I think the numbers speak for themselves. School construction money used to be dedicated at the beginning of the legislative session with very little money held back to the end. If you look at the numbers in this legislative session, nearly half of the school construction money was not awarded until after the session ended. And that allows that money to be used as a means of trying to achieve political goals during the legislative session. I think that's wrong.

    Q: I sort of recall [former governor William Donald] Schaefer – and this has been a longtime tradition in American politics – [allocated] some of the monies during the year and some after the session.

    A: I don't remember that happening until the very end of Schaefer's administration. And the first time that I remember it being blatantly and openly discussed by a governor was when Schaefer was attempting to get votes for a tobacco tax. And that was, if I remember correctly, the last year of his eight year term. But I think, if you look historically, you'll see that school construction money, as I said, was put out by the Board of Public Works early on at the beginning of the legislative session with very little held until the end.

    Q: Well one of the things that Gov. [Parris] Glendening has clearly done compared to Schaefer is he's raised by a lot the money that's gone to school construction, and I think that in the last four years the state has spent double or triple what they spent the previous. And it seems a lot of the counties are quite happy with that money. [Montgomery County Executive Douglas] Duncan from one of the growing counties over here has gotten a lot more school construction money. Do you see what's happened in terms of ... I understand you're talking about the politicization but just in terms of the actual public policy of giving a lot more state money to school construction. Do you think that was a good thing?

    A: I think it was the best thing you could possibly do with a surplus. Absolutely.

    Q: Who got short changed?

    A: Who got short changed in school construction? Well, if you talk to local officials around the state, until this year there were complaints from many counties. I remember hearing it from Frederick County and I remember hearing it from some of the Eastern Shore counties. Certainly last year, I think it was last year, Prince George's County ... well, the stadium vote was very much tied to school construction; Montgomery County, I don't remember the numbers exactly, but Montgomery County got something like $36 million and Prince George's County got something like $6 million, and Prince George's County was, I believe, probably the most rapidly growing county in the state.

    You know, I think it's very interesting that Parris Glendening who was county executive for 12 years in Prince George's County, in the last 10 years that he was county executive built a sum total of two schools, in a county that had the fastest school population increases. And I think should be held accountable, quite frankly, for the fact that there are 10,000, I believe, students in Prince George's County today going to school in temporary classrooms because there was benign neglect during the time that he was the guy in charge of the construction program for Prince George's County. And it was clearly necessary to make up for that shortcoming in this session of the legislature because Prince George's County schools are in pretty bad shape in terms of overcrowding and temporary classrooms. So the taxpayers of the state as a whole, this year, are bailing out the problems of the past decade.

    Q: There are two other reasons why there was no schools built in Prince George's County, one being TRIM [Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders] and the other being the desegregation lawsuit which made it very difficult. So you think you hold Glendening more accountable for those, for a lawsuit which predated his county executiveship and also a property tax limitation which was imposed by the voters?

    A: Well I believe that the lawsuit, maybe I don't fully understand the implications of that lawsuit, but I really don't know why you couldn't proceed to build schools.

    Q: It had to be approved by a court and they had to work out some kind of place, where to put the schools.

    A: Wasn't that the fundamental responsibility of the county executive to make that happen?

    Q: Take us back to the last election. Do you still think you won that?

    A: I think it's irrelevant. I think that there were clearly problems in Baltimore City. I think that the fact that Baltimore City has addressed some of those problems is a positive thing that has come out of 1994 in terms of cleaning up their voters' list, in terms of bringing in new equipment which, hopefully, is better equipment. There were election board workers who were found guilty of personal vote fraud. The issues of 1994 are over. When the case ended, I chose not to appeal.

    There's something that I think most people really have forgotten, which was dealt with by this session of the legislature, which was that in 1994 we had a very unusual state law. It allowed a candidate in a primary to have access to a recount. There was no process in the general and I think it was a law that probably dated back to the days when the general election was irrelevant in Maryland because it was literally a one party system. So it was not until this past year that the legislature addressed this and, hopefully, a future candidate who finds himself in a very close election will be able to challenge it through a recount process as you can in most states.

    I had no other option in order to force anyone to look at the election than to challenge it in court. And we did what we thought was right at the time. When the court challenge ended, there were many people who wanted me to appeal and I said no, we need to get on with state government. And I've moved forward and I think and hopefully the voters have, too.

    Q: In that campaign you did very well by the tax issue. It appears to have drawn a lot of votes for you. Since then, obviously, taxes have been reduced. What can you draw on this time as a similarly powerful issue in this campaign?

    A: Yes, taxes have been reduced. By the time people go to vote in November I think they will have achieved about a $20 per person reduction. But the interesting thing is that, according to "Governing" magazine, which I think is a well respected publication of state government, their financial analysis of the states in January had Maryland having moved from the fourth highest in the country when I was leading that charge in 1994 to the second highest in the country per capita. So what has happened has been other states have acted more aggressively in terms of reducing their tax burden, which means that Maryland still is in a very non-competitive posture as far as the states that we compete with, particularly our surrounding states, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia.

    So I think the tax issue is still, to me, it is still an issue because my argument in 1994 was that as long as Maryland's personal income tax burden was so out of line with the rest of the states, a business in Michigan looking at relocating into the mid-Atlantic region was going to have a great deal of incentive to go to Virginia rather than to Maryland. And I don't think that's good for us. So I don't the tax issue is off the table.

    Q: Would you be expecting then to make a specific kind of proposal as you did in 1994, and as the governor of Virginia did successfully in the last [election].

    A: Well I still believe exactly what I said in 1994 which was that the overall goal needed to be to achieve about a 24 percent reduction in Maryland personal income tax rates. Most of what you all have written about is a headline, a promise for the next governor to deliver, and I intend as governor to deliver that 10 percent [tax cut] but I also intend to continue to work towards bringing Maryland's tax rate down, consistent with what Gov. Glendening's own economic, I've forgotten the name of it, the economic development commission made that same recommendation that Maryland needed to reduce its personal income tax rates by 25 percent.

    Now in 1994, I was attacked as being irresponsible and I am delighted that Parris Glendening belatedly came to believe that maybe personal income tax rates were a problem and supported the legislative efforts to move in the right direction. But I think we need to go farther with that.

    Q: In 1994 that issue attained top priority in voters' minds. When they came to assessing your campaign, that was the one thing everyone knew about your candidacy was that you were promising a 24 percent tax cut. Do you expect that issue to have the same priority in this election in your campaign and, if not, what else is going to be up there?

    A: I think that while taxes and economic development to me are still extremely important, I think that there are other issues that the voters are a lot more focused on and clearly your poll shows exactly what I find every day when I'm out speaking to groups around the state. What people are very focused on right now is the deterioriation of the quality of education in Maryland, or the failure of Maryland public schools to be providing people a safe and effective education.

    I am, as you know, a former high school science teacher, public school teacher, and I have very, very strong beliefs about what I see and I have spent the last four years traveling Maryland and listening to people, and particularly visiting a lot of schools. And I think that focusing on some of the key problems in education is going to be a big part of my campaign. And I'm talking about dealing with disruption, which is not an urban problem, and I have learned a great deal over the last four years about how widespread the breakdown of just basic civility discipline in the classroom has become.

    The couple of issues in education that are going to really be the focus of my attention are testing children in the first grade, identifying learning disabilities, reading problems, attempting to remediate them promptly, putting reading specialists in our schools and focusing on phonics. Your competitor newspaper has picked up on something that I've been banging the drum on for a long time – which is that we don't teach children to read properly.

    Trying to end social promotion, which is pushing kids through the grades before they have the basic skills, I think is essential.

    What I see, and I'll speak for a minute to Baltimore City schools because it is the worst example in the state, 17 percent of the children in the Baltimore City school system are in special education. They're taking 33 percent of the school budget. That is appalling because probably 80 percent of those children don't belong in special education. They are there not because they can't learn, they are there because they were not taught to read.

    And that is a national study and I can't prove it because we haven't done that kind of a study of Baltimore City specifically, but nationally that's about what is the case. That most of the children in special education are perfectly capable of learning but they weren't taught and they end up in special education costing us twice as much to educate. We would be much better off to put the money into reading specialists, proper testing, a phonics based structured curriculum like the Calvert school curriculum in troubled elementary schools and trying to channel those kids into a successful future rather than passing them on with social promotion and allowing them to become frustrated, angry, hostile, acting out, becoming disruptive kids and probably ending up dropping out of school.

    Q: Does this mean that [State Superintendent of Schools Nancy] Grasmick has failed? Would you replace here as school superintendent or is it somebody else's fault?

    A: I'm not trying to point the finger of blame at Mrs. Grasmick. I think she has tried diligently to make improvements, but I believe that there are serious, serious shortcomings. We do not have an effective program to deal with disruption. We are not putting the money into the classrooms in the large measure that I think it should be. Too much money is still going into administration and bureaucracy in the school system and I've proposed what I've called the 90-10 rule that would suggest that 90 percent of new state money under my administration I would be trying to put in the classroom.

    And I would also give local governments the ability to do something that they can't do today, which is audit and have more control over the spending of the money. You talk to a county executive who says you know I put the money in the budget and I have absolutely no control what the school system does with the money.

    If we could put the money where it belongs, I think we would be able to reduce class size. I think you could pay teachers better salaries and you could have books to take home. It astounds me, as a high school science teacher taught in an era when the per pupil spending in real dollars was far less than it is today, and I was the science department chairman and I know that every four years or so we were updating and buying new books. And every child had a reasonably up to date textbook that they could take home. With the amount of money that is being spent today, the books aren't there.

    Q: Where would you fault the governor in this regard because obviously a lot of education in the state is run by county school boards, beyond the power of the purse in terms of how much money he puts into this budget, or she, and school construction and who here she appoints to be on the Board of Education. There doesn't seem to be a lot more the governor can do. Where would you fault Gov. Glendening's handling of education? And if you were governor are there bills that you'd introduce? What types of things specifically would you try to do to realize this vision that you're talking about?

    A: Well, I'll give you one very concrete example. When that very large allocation of funds was made to Baltimore City to try to begin to address the problems in Baltimore City, I would not have done that without having very clear criteria that I thought were essential to the improvement of the school system.

    And I've just named some of those criteria. Testing children in the first grade and kindergarten level and identifying the problems and putting reading instructors into schools. There should have been strings tied to that money; the only string that was tied to that money was that the governor was going to have the ability to appoint jointly with the mayor the new members of the new school board. And, quite frankly, since Parris Glendening had presided over the second worst school system in the state of Maryland while he was county executive, that didn't give me a whole lot of confidence that we were going to see major improvements in Baltimore.

    I think there do need to be changes made in the law. I think that local governments ought to, as I said, be able to audit and be held accountable. They're the ones that are accountable to the voters and they ought to be accountable for how the money is being spent by the local school system.

    I think that there should be more control at the local level in terms of being able to appoint principals and get rid of bad principals who I think are the most important people in the school system, and that that is something that every local superintendent ought to really have full control over.

    I think it should be easier to remove incompetent teachers and would work towards legislation to try to allow that process to be more streamlined.

    The 90-10 rule would require some sort of legislative action to make it happen that would force new money, new education money to be used in the classroom. So yeah, I think there are things that the governor needs to do.

    I'll give you another example. Northern High School in Baltimore has been one of the most prominent examples of a school that was completely out of control. Dr. Brown moved in when she had kids who just absolutely refused to obey instructions and suspended a third of the students at Northern High School. I thought it would have been a perfect time for both the mayor and the governor to have been demonstrating their concern and leadership and supporting Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown would probably have lost her job if it hadn't been for talk radio because the reaction from up above was she hadn't followed the rules. She had failed to hold individual parent conferences before 1,200 kids could be suspended for being totally insubordinate.

    I went to Northern High School and visited with Dr. Brown and gave her at least my full support for what she was trying to do.

    Q: How much more money roughly would your educational proposals cost? You're talking about more reading instructors, more testing. Roughly how much more money would it cost, your education program? And where are you going to get that money if you want to cut taxes?

    A: Well, the testing program is very inexpensive. We've got a national figure in that movement right here in Maryland in former senator Bill Brock who has been a prominent national voice in education reform. And he has one of a variety of different programs that are happening around the country. But I happen to know from his program how inexpensive it is to test kids. Ending social promotion is not something that necessitates spending more money, because you're better off to keep those kids at the second grade level until they've learned to read than to pass them on and have them end up in special education.

    The tradeoff, and I understand that this doesn't happen immediately, but I think the tradeoff is trying to prevent children from ending up in special ed where they are ultimately going to be a tremendous burden on the school system and if you can achieve that by putting some additional focus on reading instructors in our elementary schools and a curriculum, something that I am really high on is the Calvert school curriculum.

    I've been in several of the schools, very troubled schools in very poor neighborhoods that have put the Calvert school curriculum and yeah it costs a little bit more but it isn't all that much more expensive. It holds people accountable. It holds the students accountable. It gets the parents more involved. It holds the teachers accountable.

    And it was very exciting to me to see the progress in Cherry Hill at the Carter Woodson School, one of the poorest communities in Baltimore City, to see the progress that those children were making. They have the clipboards hanging on the back of the room and you can go from the 1st grade to the 2nd grade to the 3rd grade and see the advances in composition skills. And these kids learn to write. And they don't allow a piece of paper to go on that clipboard until it's punctuated properly. No creative spelling.

    That doesn't cost more. That's just holding people accountable and not putting up with nonsense.

    Q: But if your 24 percent tax cut had gone into effect, there wouldn't have been money for the extra school construction, for even the programs we're doing now. At least that's the argument that the governor made four years ago. What do you make of that?

    A: Well I make of it that he doesn't understand basic economics. And I will explain it this way. [Michigan] Gov. [John] Engler, I think, was one of the best examples, but there are many examples. Gov. Engler had a $1.8 billion dollar shortfall when he was elected. He did not close it by increasing taxes. He's now cut taxes a total of at least 24, maybe it's more by now. The last figure I heard was he had left about $12 billion in the pockets of Michigan families and he has now a $1.2 billion surplus. And the reason it happened was because Michigan's economy took off like a rocket.

    I think there are multiple examples around the country where governors who have reduced the tax burden, have reduced the regulatory overkill, and I'm not talking about clean water and clean air, I'm talking about strangling small businesses in paperwork that nobody reads and forms and the inability to get permits. Engler did two things that I would intend to do: Reduce Maryland's tax burden to make us competitive and deal in a realistic way with regulatory overkill and the Michigan economy which had been a poster child of the Rust Belt took off like a rocket and large numbers of people who were on unemployment roles and on welfare roles ended up on pay rolls and they put more money into state coffers.

    Now I know that's a philosophical thing that everybody doesn't agree with, but I really believe that if you make an economy more competitive, instead of the MCIs and the, look at Maryland today and compare what we are seeing in Maryland with what has happened in Virginia in recent years.

    Our big economic development strategy of Parris Glendening was to build a football stadium with $300 million of public funds, because a lot of these are public funds, as you all know, invested in a football stadium. George Allen, with about half that amount of investment, did job training, infrastructure and tax credits. You create a job and we'll give you a tax credit. And he got Toshiba, IBM and Motorola computer chip factories around Manassas, Va., employing--the last numbers I saw--over 10,000 people with salaries of over $35,000 average a year.

    So when Oracle Software looks at Maryland and looks at Virginia, he's created a critical mass of high tech in Virginia and there's a sucking sound of businesses locating around that critical mass. My idea is to make Maryland highly competitive, economically competitive and bring the good paying jobs here to Maryland not see them continuing to go to Virginia.

    Page Two

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