Denton, Md., is a town familiar by sight but not by name to many Washingtonians, "the kind of place where you go when you're going someplace else," Harry Hughes calls it. Denton is the town which, though it has only 2,000 people, seems to spread out for several miles, first on one side of the Choptank River and then on the other, along the two-lane road from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Delaware beach towns. Denton is Harry Hughes' home town and first political base, and although when he was elected governor of Maryland four years ago he seemed a new face to most of the state's voters, his career in Denton and Annapolis goes back quite a while.
So does his family. His mother's father and his father before him represented Caroline County in the state Senate, and his father was "a disciple" of Congressman Thomas Goldsborough, a New Deal Democrat who became a federal judge. It was Harry Hughes' mother, however, who had a college degree, and she is the one he mentions when he recounts how there was never any degrading or discriminatory language allowed in their house, despite the racial segregation that was then the law on the Eastern Shore. His mother never liked the word "poor," either; and despite Hughes' easy manner, and the way he interlards his talk with colorful language and cheerful laughs, you have the impression he still doesn't use words his mother wouldn't approve of.
Hughes' family had stature in Denton, but not a lot of money; he started work at 12, and remembers that he made 75 cents a night at a soda fountain ("I didn't know what tips were," he says with a laugh). He worked in a sawmill and a tomato cannery at a time when there were 16 canneries on the Eastern Shore. Though he doesn't look old enough, he is a veteran of World War II: he enlisted in the Navy at age 17, when he lost an appointment to the Naval Academy; he went to flight school and even qualified by test for training as an aeronautical engineer. It was a position he didn't want, and he turned it down; as the war ended, he was in flight school, training with a Free French unit in Chapel Hill, N.C.
After the war Hughes finished college at Maryland and went to law school at George Washington. He worked in one of those "temporary" wartime buildings on the Mall for the Catalogue Commission ("God, was it boring"), one of the few agencies Congress abolished.
He went back to Denton to practice law. Soon afterward, a local legislator quit. The place was to be filled by the local Democratic state central committee, which was deadlocked between two factions and split 3-3; Hughes thought he was friendly with both sides, but when he came forward he, too, was rejected 3-3. "That got me interested and a little angry," and so he ran for the office and won in 1954.
Four years later he was elected to the state senate; in both cases he beat men who were fathers of men he now considers good friends. He waged a door-to-door campaign, setting out each day with sandwiches in the car to visit each farmhouse in Caroline County. He remembers one occasion when he had to go into a barn and drink a little cider with a farmer in order to win his vote.
He did not keep the seat without struggle. In those years, Maryland had a public accommodations civil rights law that specifically exempted the Eastern Shore; there were civil rights demonstrations in Cambridge, to the south, as late as 1964. But Hughes will say only that the Shore had "a segregationist image," and he remembers that he voted for every civil rights bill. Why? "It was the right thing to do." There was some controversy, and he remembers when an opponent put up billboards reading "Know the truth about Harry! He wants to integrate the swimming pools." But Hughes cites the fact that he was reelected every four years as evidence that the area's segregationist reputation was exaggerated.
A lot has changed, on the Shore and in Annapolis, since Hughes crossed the new Bay Bridge to begin serving in the legislature in 1955. He remembers that state government was much smaller, but thinks that in some ways legislators then, who represented whole counties rather than groupings of rural counties or small portions of metropolitan areas, were less parochial and more concerned about the general good.
Hughes served in the legislature until 1970, then served six years as state secretary of transportation under Gov. Marvin Mandel. Then he quit, untainted by any of the Maryland scandals of those years, and moved to Baltimore and a successful law practice. His victory in the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial primary was a surprise; he was seen as a fresh, new face despite his 24 years in Annapolis.
For all his experience, Hughes has been criticized for ineptness in dealing with the legislature, but he enters his race for reelection seemingly cheerful and with almost a puckish attitude, appropriate, perhaps, for a man for whom everything political seems to have turned out all right.
When you meet Bob Pascal, you are not surprised to learn that he has been a coach, and when you talk with him for awhile you are not surprised to learn that his father was a coach as well. He has the look of an athlete: not especially tall, but large and solid, perhaps a little overweight now, but in better physical shape than most men 20 years younger. He talks as you would expect an athlete to talk: with emphasis and enthusiasm, occasional pauses while he figures out the best way to express a thought. He is not as glib as some politicians, and he seems to avoid instinctively the abstractions so many politicians use to characterize their positions.
Pascal's father was a teacher and a coach in Bloomfield, N.J., a suburb just northwest of Newark. It is a more pleasant place than you might think, situated on the hills just short of the high ridges that run north and south a few miles west of Newark. It is the kind of place where successful sons and daughters of Italian immigrants, people who had graduated from college and held professional jobs, lived -- people like Bob Pascal's family.
Pascal earned an athletic scholarship to Duke University, and he remembers that his family came to all the games, though most were played a long way from New Jersey. "Psychologically, it makes a difference." He was an All-American halfback in college: "the athletic part came easy." But he is also proud of the fact that he was one of five out of 35 football scholarship holders his year to graduate from Duke, then as now a top-flight academic school.
With a record like his, Pascal could hope for a professional football career, and he was a third draft choice of the Baltimore Colts. But his father had died the year before, and he wanted to help out his family financially. So he accepted a no-cut contract with the Montreal Alouettes rather than risk being cut by the Colts. "I think I could have made that team," he says--which is to say that he would have been part of the Colts teams that won two consecutive National Football League championships.
But he does not seem particularly regretful, and talks with some gusto of how, in Canadian football, he had to play both offense and defense, and how tough it is to play linebacker. As it happened, he suffered knee injuries and played only one year in Montreal.
You have to believe that Pascal was disappointed to end his professional athletic career so soon, but he goes on to talk about what he did next. That was to join his father-in-law's LP gas business in Coral Gables, Fla. He is proud of his wife; he makes a point of showing you his picture of her and his four daughters. After Coral Gables, while he was still in his 20s, he bought the Maryland branch of the business, and that is how -- after turning down the Colts' offer -- he came to settle in the state whose governorship he now seeks. He was successful in business, but it wasn't enough: "I'm competitive, and politics is very competitive."
He got into politics, at least indirectly, through coaching. For nine years he coached 12- to 14-year-olds in Pop Warner football, and fielded "some of the best teams around." He wanted to run for a seat in Maryland's constitutional convention, a nonpartisan office, and the parents of the kids he had coached in Severna Park were the core of his campaign. He won that office in 1966, and in 1970, though still a registered Democrat -- "my dad and all my family were Democrats" -- he ran for the state senate as a Republican. "I couldn't beat the old guard Democrats in the primary, but I thought maybe I could in the general." Four years later he was elected county executive, and in 1978 he was reelected by a large margin.
Bob Pascal talks, with more vehemence than he does about sports, about the programs he claims credit for in Anne Arundel County: more than doubling park acreage, some of the best senior citizens' programs around, special school for juvenile delinquents, using prisoners to help build detention centers, jobs maintaining parks for people who are mentally retarded. His television ads talk about cracking down on crime, and he talks with the same vehemence about putting people to work.
"My biggest job," he says, with some force, "is to tell the bureaucrats I won't take no for an answer. I love to do something they tell you we can't do. I tell them we pay them to tell me what we can do."
It is a theme that comes naturally, it seems, to a man who has won on the playing field and produced winners as a coach, who has been successful both in business and politics. He is running an uphill race against an incumbent who is not perceived as having made major mistakes. But Bob Pascal insists, "we've got a shot at winning."