When Rep. Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md.) introduced a budget amendment last spring to reduce federal spending and taxation drastically, it was dismissed by many of her colleages as just another of her far-our conservative schemes.
But now, six months later, Holt's amendment in the atmosphere of Proposition 13 is the accepted standard, and the three-term congreswoman from the 4th Congressional District is looking beyond next month's election to a place in the national spotlight where her views will demand attention.
The acceptance of Holt's ideal that both federal spending and taxes must be cut to control inflation gives some credence to her view of herself as a political moderate even though liberal and conservative organizations members of the House.
Holt also sees herself as a true leader of the women's movement in America, having been the first woman elected to Congress from Maryland in her own right. But she concedes that most Marylands point to Democratic Reps. Gladys Noon Spellman, in the adjoining 5th Congressional District, and Barbara Mikulski in Baltimore, when they think of women's issues.
Holt bristles when her opponent, Democrat Sue Ward, boosts herself as a candidate sensitive to women's issues as a candidate sensitive to women's issues as they debate across the district, which includes Anne Arundel and part of Prince George's counties.
"My whole career is proof of my dedication to equal rights," snaps Holt, adding that "some people think you have to support abortion and gay rights" to be in the women's movement. "That's stupid," she said.
Although Holt is confident she will be re-elect, she said she is "running scared because there is always the possibility of getting swept out on a united Democcratic vote" in a district where registered Democrats ountnumber Republicans about 3 to 1.
Holt complained in an interview yesterday in her congressional office in Glen Burnie that Ward is "misinforming the people on my votes."
For example, she said, Ward "is saying I voted against the Panama Canal treaties (the House had no voice the debate), against money for educating the handicapped and in favor of a pay increase for Congress.
"I thought a woman would be more ethical than that," she said, noting that she survived two "vicious campaigns" against Ward's predecessor, Werner Fornos. Her first congressional opponent, Fred Wineland, now Maryland secretary of state, was "a gentleman," she added.
While Holt is trying to persuade voters in the largely blue-collar precincts of the ditrict that she is a moderate in conservative's clothing, Ward is trying to persuade the same voters that she is, in he phrase, "a sensible Democrat," but not a liberal one.
Ward admits that when she began her campaign last January she was a "a total unknown," but said she is "amused" that she is described "as a political novice" just because she had never sought elective office.
In the 17 years she has lived in the district she has "stuffed envelopes, done mailing and other volunteer work for candidates" as well as working as a psychiatric social worker and as executive director of the Children's Aid Society of Charles County.
Ward was born 43 years ago today in Albuquerque, N.M., and grew up on the nearby Navaho Indian reservation, where her father was superintendent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
As her father's career as a federal administrator took him to South America and the Middle East, she attended 15 schools before graduating from high school. She attended colleges in Beruit and Montreal and earned degrees at William and Mary and University of Utah, along the way learning French, German, Spanish and Navaho.
Holt, the oldest of four daughters of a Jacksonville, Fla, farm implement dealer, decided in the seventh grade "to be a lawyer and go to Congress."
In 1949, after graduating from the University of Florida law scchool, she and her husband, Duncan Holt, moved to Severna Park where he had landed an engineering job with Westinghouse for whom he is still employed.
Until 1962, she concentrated on rearing three children and then took the Maryland bar exam and opened an office near the elementary school "in case the children needed me." Two years later, she ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature but in 1966 she was elected to the first of two four-year terms as Anne Arundel County clerk of courts.
Ward's underfinanced campaign - Holt has raised $104,000, Ward $27,000 - got a boost Wednesday when she was endorsed by the Baltimore Evening Sun.
The newspaper described Holt's six years in the House as "a pedestrian, conservative performance with little of the flair of imagination that some of her conservative colleagues have shown." It said her "fiscal prudence may be . . . commendable (but) her particular position on various civil rights bills, health measures, urban programs and others has been almost unrelievedly negative." Ward's views on the same issues, it said, are "enlightened but fiscally prudent."
Wards attack takes the form of two brochures that ask, "How Would You Vote?" Inside, they pose 14 issues, and record how Holt voted and how Ward would have voted. As opposed to Holt's position, Ward said she would have voted for tougher environment controls on strip mining, against deregulation of new natural gas prices, against tuition-tax credits parents of private and parochial school students, for stricter auto emission standards, against building he Clinch River nuclear breeder reactor, against the $2 billion nuclear aircraft carrie and to federal aid for foster care and adoption as alternative to abortions.
Holt's budget proposal, offered in May on the House floor, initially passed on a roll call vote of 202 to 197 until shocked Democrats, responding to arm twisting by Majority Leader Jim Wright, changed enough votes to defeat it in a second tally by a vote of 197 to 203.
While Holt lost that fight, "I may have won the war," she said, noting the Budget, passed in the final hours of the 95th Congress, limits spending next year to nearly the goal sought by her - a goal Democrats had denounced as "impossible."
Although Ward's challenge to Holt is not considered serious enough to warrant an infusion of money by the Democratic National Committee, Wright, perhaps recalling to Holt resoultion vote, sent Ward $500 the other day.