A third, informal political party has emerged in Howard County this year, one made up of vote-getting novices disenchanted with the county's elected establishment.
Two members of this loose, nameless coalition, Gilbert E. South and John W. Taylor, are running as Republicans; a third, William C. Smith, is a Democrat. South is making his second bid for county executive. Taylor and Smith are trying for the first time to win seats on the County Council.
All three use similar phrases to describe their candidacies. They talk of winning grass-roots support, refusing developer contributions and working to make government more accessible to county residents.
"We've never formally announced a ticket or anything like that. But I think we share many of the same concerns about the county -- concerns that cut across party lines," South said.
South, Taylor and Smith are not campaigning as party outsiders entirely by choice. They been pushed in that direction because their opponents in the Sept. 11 primary all have the tacit support of their party leaders.
South is running against Charles I. Ecker in the Republican primary for county executive. The winner will go head-to-head with Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Bobo in the Nov. 6 general election.
Taylor is taking on fellow Republican Charles C. Feaga, who represents the western part of the county on the council. The winner will face Democrat Susan D. Scheidt.
Smith is challenging Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass for the District 1 seat that stretches from Elkridge to Savage in eastern Howard County. The winner will take on Republican Dennis R. Schrader.
Howard County's primary contests are relatively sleepy affairs so far. There have been no fiery debates and few news conferences. Instead, candidates have been content to get their message out by knocking on doors, holding fund-raisers, writing letters to newspapers and making themselves available whenever a reporter calls.
South, 54, is pinning his hopes on "appealing to the grass-roots people who are unhappy with the direction the county is taking."
To earn their trust, South, a 20-year resident who lives in Mount Hebron, said he will not accept contributions from developers.
That way he would be free as county executive, he said, to seek developer input along with comments from other community leaders on a range of issues.
South, who owns a restaurant and an environmental services company, said the county should set higher goals for recycling and providing affordable housing.
He also complains that some Republicans may find it difficult to distinguish between him and Ecker because his opponent is vague about where he stands on issues.
But Ecker, 61, said he has made his positions quite clear. He said the county's roads and schools would not have become so overburdened if county planning had been better. He said the county must be more committed to seeing that the proper facilities are put in place.
A Beaverbrook resident, Ecker has lived in the county for 13 years. He spent 15 years as an administrator for Howard County's public schools before retiring to set up a consulting firm that advises school systems statewide.
Ecker said the county needs to be more careful about its spending. He said he would shrink the county executive's staff and set up a committee to look for places to trim the county budget. He also said he would use any budget surpluses to reduce the county's debt.
Ecker said he has no problem accepting donations from developers.
"My administration is going to be fair and treat everyone the same, whether they contribute zero dollars or $1,000," Ecker said.
Council candidate Taylor said he thinks he has come up with a way candidates can accept developer contributions and avoid ethical tangles. Taylor, who is not accepting developer money, said he would push for a law that would prohibit elected officials from voting on land matters affecting contributors.
Taylor, a 34-year-old project manager at a defense electronics company, said he became interested in politics after leading a successful fight to stop construction of a Clarksville bypass near his Highland home.
The three-year county resident wants the county to retain its one-house-per-three-acres zoning in the western part of the county. And he worries that a proposal to allow developers to cluster homes on part of their property would pollute the well water that western Howard County residents depend on. If that happens, the county will have to extend its sewer and water lines west, opening the door to new development, Taylor said.
On taxes, Taylor has proposed freezing the assessment of houses owned by retirees "for the period of time that they remain in their homes."
Taylor has criticized incumbent Feaga for taking money from developers, some of whom hail from out of state. Taylor also has suggested that he might be better suited for the job because he thinks he understands land-use matters better than Feaga.
Feaga "is more at home dealing with emotional issues than technical issues," Taylor said.
A lifelong county farmer, Feaga, 57, said Taylor is partly right: "I probably am an emotional person when it comes to people and their rights."
It was several calls from angry taxpayers that persuaded Feaga to propose capping real estate assessment increases at 5 percent a year. And it was the death of a constituent in a bicycle accident that prompted him to introduce legislation mandating helmet use for bicyclists under age 16.
Feaga said people in the county know he can't be swayed by anyone's campaign contributions. He said some of the out-of-state money that Taylor talks about comes from relatives. Overall, about 77 percent of his contributions come from fellow farmers, friends, family members and county homeowners, Feaga said.
Feaga, too, wants to retain three-acre zoning in the west. And he thinks the county ought to work harder at identifying options to dispose of trash once the county's landfill reaches capacity.
In the District 1 race, Smith, 40, said he entered the race to "change people's perceptions about what a politician can be."
Smith questions why Pendergrass decided to wait for Bobo to introduce "adequate public facilities" legislation when council-inspired legislation could have been adopted earlier.
Incumbent council members "shouldn't be waiting for the county executive to lead them around by the nose. They should be representing us and play an active role in solving our problems," the eight-year Ilchester resident said.
Although Smith, too, is forgoing developer donations, he insists he is not anti-development. He says his litmus test for any project would be whether it would benefit the public's interest. Too often, he said, District 1 has become a dumping ground for undesirable projects.
Pendergrass, 40, doesn't think District 1 has become a dumping ground or that she's played a particularly passive legislative role.
An artist and 12-year Savage area resident, Pendergrass said she helped defeat a proposal to build an incinerator to burn sludge at a water treatment plant in District 1. She won support to remove two giant commercial and residential centers from the county's 20-year blueprint for growth, and she fought to ensure that construction of a new middle school in the district proceeded on schedule.
And finally, she provided information to help constituents successfully fight a proposal to build a huge truck stop off Interstate 95 in District 1.
The council chairman said she voted to table the council's version of an adequate facilities ordinance in order to first revise the General Plan so developers would know what is expected of them.
She adds that she has no qualms about accepting developer donations.
"This is a free country. Everyone has a right to vote, and everyone has a right to contribute," she said.