Kopp's Coup Collapses

December 27, 1992

When it comes to hard-nosed politics, don't count on the gang from Montgomery County to bring home victory. They're not very good at the game. They tend to be responsible, well-informed legislators, but poor politicos. That helps explain the collapse of Del. Nancy Kopp's once-promising coup attempt in the House of Delegates.

Mrs. Kopp, who has represented Bethesda in Annapolis for 18 years, is speaker pro tem. But when the legislature convenes Jan. 13, she'll lose that post for trying to topple Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell in a mid-term insurgency campaign.

At first, her chances looked good. Discontent with Mr. Mitchell's authoritative style has aliened many younger House members. Regional tensions have increased. More and more delegates feel excluded from the decision-making.

What precipitated the Kopp rebellion was the recent special session of the legislature in which Montgomery and Prince George's County legislators bitterly opposed the elimination of state aid for teacher pensions. Montgomery lawmakers in the House, in particular, vowed revenge. When the discontent with Mr. Mitchell's leadership style spread, Montgomery lawmakers persuaded Mrs. Kopp to launch a quiet revolt.

At one point, she says she was within four votes of overtaking Mr. Mitchell. But once word of the coup attempt got out, the incumbent speaker called in his chits. Mrs. Kopp's once-solid support evaporated in a matter of days. It would have been a rout if she had not ended her candidacy before it ran its full course.

Still, Mrs. Kopp may well achieve much of what she was seeking. A chastened Speaker Mitchell told his colleagues, "It is my pledge to you today to try to improve communications, to broaden leadership and to try to get a consensus-building operation that's better than we have. . . . I want you to feel a part of the process."

That's a good starting point. Both Mrs. Kopp and Mr. Mitchell have stressed the importance of resolving regional disputes and focusing on the more pressing problems confronting Maryland. As Mr. Mitchell put it, "All of us need to get back together as a united state, not a fractionalized state. There's no part of the state that can stand alone."

Not even affluent Montgomery County.

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