One common thread ties together the dramatically different communities within the 300 square miles of the 15th state legislative district in Montgomery County - the concern over high taxes and the suspicion that government spending has become wasteful.
"In this area," said Del. Jerry Hyatt, a Democrat from rural Damascus running for relection in the 15th, "most people own their houses. They're hit pretty hard with taxes. They want to feel like they can still afford to live in Montgomery County.
And the western end of the 15th, in the fashionable community known as Potomac, the same sentiments are heard. "Sure, (taxes) are a problem," said Montgmery builder John H. Hiser Jr., a Republican and resident of the Belmart Road area in Potomac. "That's why I'm running for state Senate."
Hiser said the property taxes on his home have doubled in the past four years from about $2,500 to $5,000. "There's a tremendous amount of surplus, some call it fat, in state and local government spending," said Hisen.He is campaigning on a platform that calls for a static government hiring freeze and a reevaluation of programs.
"Taxes are always mentioned," said Del. Judith Toth, as she discusses her campaign for reelection. "People wonder why county government is buying this or that."
Robin Ficker, one of three Republicans running for delegate in the district, says, "Where were they (politicians) in the last election?"
Ficker said he obtained enough signatures in 1976 to place a referendum on the ballot that would have required voter approval before property taxes were raised. The proposal lost, and its sponsorship helped make Ficker a most unpopular figure in county politics. Now, says Ficker, "Along come Proposition 13 and all these people are talking about property taxes."
The refrain of taxes and spending are heard the length and bredth of the 15th District, which stretches from the northernmost tip of Montgomery County to Laytonsville on the east, White's Ferry on the west, and Potomac in the south.
It is such a vast district that the Maryland courts subdivided it into two areas, 15a and 15b, five years ago to ensure that the northern county voters were not overshadowed and left unrepresented because of rapid population growth around Gaithersburg. Voters of 15a (the northern section) elect one delegate and voters 15b elect two. The state senator represents the entire district.
Fifteen candidates are running in this district, and their campaigners are just now beginning to gain momentum, delayed at least in part by party disorganization on both sides, according to candidates and officials of 6 other parties.
Sen. Laurence Levitan is unopposed in the Democratic primary. "In every past election, there's been presure on me," he said. "Right now, it's sort of nice to sit back and look at the fights in other districts. I've never had that luxury."
Besides Hiser, the other Republican running for state Senate is computer programmer George Sauer. Sauer said he would vote to give more power to local authorities over school construction and highway construction. "If local people have to pay for what they are doing, they'll be more careful."
There are five Democrats running for the two delegate seats in 15b, the southern part of the legislative district. Toth, a current delegate, feels homeowners having difficulty paying their taxes should receive some form of a tax break. Jay Bernstein, the other current delegate, would carefully track the building of schools, which are financed by the state, to make sure communities of this area are getting the schools they need.
Candidate James Metcalf, an investment broker believes there should be "more localized programs. That would reduce expenditures. I'm not opposed to the way taxes are levied. I'm opposed to the way they're spent," he said.
Anthony Puca, another Democratic candidate who is a businessman, would try to get a higher percentage of the amount of Montgomery County residents pay to the state in taxes returned for county usage.
William Anderson, a Gaithersburg resident and owner of a farm equipment store in Boyds, says he would attempt to make government more responsible to the taxpayer, if elected.
In addition to Robin Ficker, there are three Republicans running for delegate in 15b. Thomas Fess, a Tilden Wood resident and ombudsman for the county school system, would look for places to cut duplication of services and programs in the state government and would introduce local bills to do the same at the county level.
Thomas H. Williams, a Potomac lawyer and Republican candidate, said there should be more extensive sunset legislation that would subject state agencies and programs to regularly scheduled review on whether or not they are still useful.
Eduardo Wolle, a Republican and Washington Grove resident, the youngest candiate at the age of 24 would seek to put a freeze on property taxes for two years.
Del. Jerry Hyatt is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for reelection in District 15a. Hyatt believes there should be a ceiling on the piggyback taxes that Montgomery County imposes on its residents. Montgomery currently places a 50 percent surcharge on the state income tax that all residents pay. Hyatt would limit the maximum to the present rate.