Last month, R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, spoke to the crowd at a fund-raiser in honor of Howard ''Pete'' Rawlings, the four-term black delegate from the 40th District in west Baltimore. Mr. Mitchell referred to his colleague as ''a future speaker.''
The prediction may have sounded like glib hyperbole to some, but several insiders in the crowd nodded knowingly. Indeed, some delegates have already begun to talk about the possibility that Mr. Rawlings might eventually rise to the speaker's position.
Of course, the discussion is speculative and premature. Mr. Rawlings may never become speaker. But without a doubt he has already emerged as one of the most articulate and effective leaders in the General Assembly. He will almost certainly become the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Baltimore badly needs his growing stature and influence. For example, he played a key role for the city during the budget crunch in Annapolis last spring. Baltimore had a lot of its high-tech economic future as stake. The city sought some critical appropriations:
* $1.5 million for the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research and Exploration;
* $1.5 million for a joint Hopkins-UMBC bio-processing facility;
* $1 million for the Maryland Biotechnology Institute's new research center in the old Hutzlers' building on Howard Street;
* $5 million for the new UMAB medical research building;
* $19.8 million for the Merrick School of Business building at the University of Baltimore;
* $850,000 for the Convention Center, and $10 million in extra state aid for the city's general fund.
Everyone knew it wouldn't be easy for Baltimore to win all of those appropriations. After all, there wasn't any extra money lying around. In fact, the 1991 legislative session had to come up with more than $550 million in budget cuts.
As the session came to a close, the legislative process threw the final budget decisions into three different conference committees, appointed to resolve differences between the Senate and House budget resolutions. Only three delegates and three senators were selected for each conference committee.
Speaker Mitchell appointed Mr. Rawlings to all three conference committees. Therefore, the city had a place at the table during all the final negotiations. In the give and take, its interests were protected and its appropriations all survived.
Mr. Ralwings' appointments to those three conference committees signified his position as one of the six most important figures on budgetary matters in the General Assembly. He is vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Since 1983, he has chaired the powerful subcommittee on health and environment, which also controls appropriations for housing, natural resources and economic development.
Of course, Mr. Rawlings pursues the direct interests of his constituents. His subcommittee controls appropriations for minority business development. He has played a leading role in the Maryland Low Income Housing Coalition, the Metropolitan Education Coalition and the Maryland Alliance for the Poor.
In private life he is a college mathematics professor. His professional experience has made him one of the legislature's most respected voices on higher education -- one of the key components in the new economic paradigm. He was one of the principal forces behind the 1988 higher education reorganization.
The most impressive feature of Mr. Rawling's career, however, has been his emergence as one of the state's most important advocates for Maryland's high-tech future. Two years ago, he served on the joint committee on economic strategy and chaired a subcommittee on technology and capital access. He immersed himself in hearings and reports. When organizations merely sent him executive summaries of long studies, he called and asked for the full reports. He toured Montgomery County's computer and biotech companies.
By the end of the 1989 session, he had made himself one of the state's most knowledgeable public figures on high-tech economic development. He championed the creation of the Maryland Venture Capital Trust, the Maryland Information Technologies Center in Montgomery County and the Office of Technology Development and the International Trade Division in the State Department of Economic and Employment Development.
The Greater Baltimore Committee now regards him as the region's most informed legislative voice on the development of a knowledge-based economy. The GBC's exciting vision of Baltimore as an international life-sciences center will require continued state investment in technology centers, venture capital, research universities and education systems.
To achieve that vision, the region will need both his expertise in high-tech economic development and his growing influence in Annapolis.
Tim Baker writes on issues of city and state.