As the dust billowed from the noisy construction hole outside his small country store - the only signpost of the past at the crossroads of Olney - grocer Francis Hawkins leafed through sheaves of yellowed newspapers that showed how his community looked long ago.

"If the politicians had taken more interest in Olney," he said dejectedly, "maybe we'd still have an Olney . . ."

Hawkins' reluctance to relinquish the semirural past for the concrete-and-steel future is a refrain being repeated across Maryland's 14th Legislative District - the sprawling region that encompases all of Howard County and its new town of Columbia and the eastern corner of Montgomery County between Washington and Baltimore.

In the 14th District, where minicities have sprung up in the midst of rolling farmland, the crosscurrent themes of old and new that have shaped so much of the region's political identity are being played in serveral campaign variations.

An economics professor, Monroe Burk, is challenging the incumbent senator, James Clark Jr., a lawyer and a fifth-generation dairy farmer who has represented the region in Annapolis for 20 years.

In the crowded House of Delegates race, 15 newcomers want to oust the two of three incumbents who are seeking reelection, contending that the current delegates do not represent the new spectrum of people who have arrived since the district's population tripled in the past decade.

"My opponent says I'm not smart enough to represent the people anymore," said Clark, 59, the influential chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "He says they need a more sophisticated man. But I've seen a lot of change."

Once the territory of gentlemen farmers, mill towns and isolated rural villages, the 330-square mile region has become the state's most populous legislative district whose population has all the characteristics of the "young, ambitious middle class," as one resident put it.

The Montgomery County corner, which contains some of the country's oldest settlements Sandy Spring, Ashton and Burtonsville - has doubled in population to 72,000 since 1972, according to county planners.

At the northern edge of the district is the county's new satellite city of Olney, whose professional families have pushed up the district's median family income to $28,500 - higher thant the county average of $26,700. To the south become the new center of the industrial and commercial growth in the county.

Howard County, transformed from an area of 36,160 residents in 1960 to one of about 110,000 people today, is dominated by the new town of Columbia. The beginning of its construction in 1965 spurred other growth in residential subdivisions along the Baltimore County border.

While everyone is fretting over taxes and the rising cost of government, "there are no big issues of great moment this year," said James Eagan, head of the powerful Columbia Democratic Club.

"The issue seems to be the character of our (House) delegates. Will they be the "good ol' boys' who refuse to accept the new leadership of the county government or politicians for new times?" he said.

Burk, Clark's challenger, is exploiting the same theme. He has attempted to paint Clark as a protector of "rich" farmers because of Clark's position on preservation of agricultural land.

Clark sponsored legislation permitting state and local governments to buy the development rights to farmland, thus giving farmers an economic incentive to keep their land underveloped, and not to sell it to developers, who are willing to pay well for the property.

Burk is leading a countywide petition drive for a ballot referendum to undo the effects of that legislation because he contends that limiting development only drives up the cost of housing for others.

"The clark approach seems to be based upon weathervane politics. He knows the popular concerns of the moment," said Burk. "We need someone more academically knowledgeable and scientifically analytical."

At best, say party activists. Burk is a long shot. Clark conceded that the challenge has "forced me to go out and meet People, which I probably wouldn't have done. But Lord knows, I've helped in many ways to bring this county along."

The issues talked about in the races for the House of Delegates in the two subdivisions of District 14 have a different focus. Some Democrats are dissatisfied with the party's incumbents and Republicans are determined to topple Democratic control of what they regard as a Republican-leaning district.

"The issues this year are Republican issues," said Joan Atens, a 34-year-old Columbia and former member of the Howard County Republican Central Committee who is running for a delegate sect. "The people realize that one-party governments are too expensive."