To state Del. Gloria Lawlah, 1990 looks like a transition year, a time to begin a shift to new political leadership to match the changing population in the 26th District of southern Prince George's County.
But to Sen. Frank J. Komenda, who has represented the district for 16 years in the House and Senate, the perilous times ahead require "experience and knowledge . . . to solve these problems."
Lawlah and Komenda, the two Democratic candidates for the Maryland Senate, will test their mutually exclusive platforms in the Sept. 11 primary. Whoever prevails will get an automatic four-year term in the General Assembly, because no Republican is seeking the Senate seat in the district.
Three competing slates also have brought out 10 Democrats seeking three seats in the state House of Delegates. The one Republican candidate, Claude W. Roxborough, of Temple Hills, automatically will get a place on the November general election ballot with the three top Democratic vote-getters in the primary.
The Komenda-Lawlah race has become the subject of intense interest. It is being viewed as a gauge both of the potency of the abortion issue at the ballot box and of whether black candidates can make headway this year in a county and district with a growing black population.
Komenda, 55, voted against abortion rights legislation that died in the General Assembly in March. As a consequence, Lawlah, 51, has been targeted for priority assistance from the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
But Komenda, a subcommittee chairman on the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, retains strong support from Democratic leaders in Prince George's as well as Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whom Komenda backed in the bitter 1986 gubernatorial primary.
The district in 1980 had a population nearly evenly divided between black and white residents. Today, estimates put the black population at roughly 60 percent of the total, with a small but growing number of Filipino-Americans also making their home there.
Komenda, who is white, is running on a slate with three House candidates, two black and one white. Lawlah, who is black, heads a slate that includes two blacks and one Filipino-American running for the House.
In an interview, Lawlah said that she considers the elections this year a "critical" turning point in county political history.
"We looked at 1978, when the numbers started changing," said Lawlah, who is completing her first term in the House of Delegates. "This is the trigger year. We'll complete the transformation by 1994."
"Those of us who used to work for the alliance . . . are no longer satisfied to work to keep them in power," she added. "People are going to have to share the power more."
Komenda, pointing to what he called heavy involvement in minority issues over the years, said nevertheless that he doesn't believe race is a major issue in the district.
"We have a high percentage of our constituents who are federal employees, professional or business persons that are looking beyond race in a candidate," he said.
At a recent candidate night in Oxon Hill, Komenda reminded the audience that he is chairman of the Prince George's Senate delegation and that he chairs a subcommittee that oversees half the state budget.
"We're heading for a recession," Komenda cautioned. "This state, this country is heading for difficult economic times. It's going to take experience and knowledge . . . to solve these problems."
Lawlah said abortion is an immediate issue in the campaign, but her long-range goal is to promote more sharing of political power in Prince George's. "Those decisions in the past have been left to a small elite," Lawlah said.
In the House of Delegates race, the 10 Democrats include incumbents Christine M. Jones, 61, of Hillcrest Heights, and Rosa Lee Blumenthal, 66, of Oxon Hill, as well as Charles Diggs Jr., 67, a former Michigan congressman who left office in 1978 after conviction in a kickback scandal. He lives in Oxon Hill.
Jones and Blumenthal, along with Otis Ducker, 61, an Oxon Hill management consultant who ran unsuccessfully in 1986, are on Komenda's slate.
Running on the ticket with Lawlah are David M. Valderrama, 57, of Fort Washington; Mary C. Larkin, 43, of Oxon Hill, president of the Coalition on Black Affairs; and Bernard Phifer, 59, of Hillcrest Heights, a retired executive in the D.C. Department of Human Services.
Diggs has two other House candidates running on a slate with him: Alfred L. Barrett, 53, of Oxon Hill, who sought a House seat in 1986; and Veronica Turner, 40, of Camp Springs, a Jackson delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention who is chief shop steward of Local 63, AFL-CIO. Leighton D. Williams, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1986, also is seeking a state House seat.
Jones, the only antiabortion candidate among the House incumbents, is seeking a third term this year. She said she is emphasizing education, economic development and improved social programs in the election. "All constituents can benefit from that platform," Jones said.
Blumenthal, who was first elected to the House four years ago, said she will continue to support abortion rights and oppose all tax increases. But she said she hears more complaints about automobile insurance than other issues and promised to fight against no-fault insurance if proposals arise in the next session.
Ducker is pushing education issues in his campaign. Ducker, who has long been active in civic affairs, said the voters seem most interested, too, in drug-related crime.
Valderrama, a longtime leader of the Filipino-American community in Prince George's, left a seat on the Orphan's Court to run for the House. "I think I'll have a better impact on change in the legislature," Valderrama said. "I wanted to move to the side that makes laws, to meet the needs of people better."
Larkin, associate director of the National Institute for Citizen Education in the Law, said she would use her background if elected. "My objective would be to empower the citizenry by educating them, teaching them how the system works and how to get things done within the system," she said.
Phifer, who now is an associate at the Oxon Hill Library, said he is stressing the need for new representation in the area, as well as improved educational opportunities and the control of development.
Diggs denies that he is seeking to begin a major political comeback by way of the Maryland legislature this year. Rather, Diggs, who owns a funeral home in the district, said he came out of political retirement because of a desire to help redraw boundaries of legislative and congressional districts, a process that will come in 1992 after results of the 1990 census are available.
"I want to make sure there is no technical misdirection of the boundary lines," Diggs said, "so they are truly representative of the people."
One of Diggs's running mates, Turner, said voters in the district "are very concerned that there is no recreation for kids." Turner, a board member of the Camp Springs Civic Association, said she is stressing the need to improve transportation, including completion of the Metro Green Line to Branch Avenue.