Big Changes in Annapolis

September 14, 1992

Before it is over, the mid-term changes taking place in the Maryland House of Delegates promise to be the biggest legislative shake-up in decades. House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell seems determined to reshape the House to fit his conservative, budget-cutting philosophy.

Already, two chairmen -- Charles J. "Buzz" Ryan from Prince George's County (Appropriations) and Anne S. Perkins from Baltimore (Constitutional and Administrative Law) -- have resigned from the legislature and a third -- John S. Arnick from Baltimore County (Judiciary) -- is expected to be ousted from his post shortly. Ms. Perkins' panel may be abolished. The two new committee chairmen are certain to be Mitchell loyalists.

A wholesale revamping of committee assignments may also be in the works, as Mr. Mitchell tries to give the key appropriations panel a conservative cast. The House speaker is determined to downsize government, but he needs a pliant budget panel to make it happen. The new appropriations chairman, Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings of Baltimore, is a dedicated liberal and advocate for the poor, but he is also eager to act as Mr. Mitchell's point man in sharply reducing the scope of government so as to avoid mammoth deficits in the next few years.

Republican legislators appear delighted by the changes. Many of Mr. Mitchell's notions about cutting deeply into government programs mesh with theirs. A more conservative appropriations panel should give the GOP on the committee more clout.

Both Mr. Ryan and Ms. Perkins made solid contributions to the legislature and will be missed. Ms. Perkins had the courage to push for campaign finance reform even when it wasn't popular among her colleagues. Mr. Ryan remained sympathetic to urban problems and tried to protect both the suburbs and the city from the worst of the budget cuts.

Mr. Rawlings, too, has been a guardian of the city. But he must remain loyal to Mr. Mitchell's marching orders on the budget, too. That poses a dilemma for the new appropriations chairman, one that will test his skills as a political conciliator. He needs to recreate last session's coalition of Washington suburban and city lawmakers that voted to balance the budget via deep budget cuts and tax increases. If he can work with Speaker Mitchell to align this group behind a plan to downsize state government, the new order in the House might dominate political Annapolis.

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