Casper Taylor, 'quiet but forceful' Delegate coveted speaker post

November 17, 1993|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Staff Writer Staff writer Marina Sarris contributed to this article.

For Cas Taylor, persistence does indeed seem to pay off -- in applause when his health care reform bill passed the House of Delegates earlier this year, and now in winning the chamber's top job that he has long coveted.

Presiding over the powerful Economic Matters Committee, Delegate Taylor, a 58-year-old former tavern owner, worked for three years on the difficult problems of health care reform as he weighed and weaved the views of competing interests and even a rival legislator. It was an exercise -- perhaps even the legislative equivalent of a collegiate final exam -- in consensus building that climaxed in accommodation and compromise with Mr. Taylor's Senate counterpart and fellow Democrat, Finance Committee Chairman Thomas P. O'Reilly.

"He deserves it because of his service to the state," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday. "He has a winning way. He's quiet but forceful. I think he's well-respected all over the state."

Casper R. Taylor Jr. is a son of Cumberland -- a lifelong resident of Allegany County and Western Maryland's most powerful voice in Annapolis. He attended parochial schools in Allegany and completed that Catholic education by earning his bachelor's degree in 1956 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. It was a family-owned tavern in Cumberland that helped Cas Taylor's parents send him to Notre Dame -- the same business that enabled him to send his two children there before he sold it in 1992.

A member of the House since 1975, Mr. Taylor has served throughout his legislative career on Economic Matters. He was its vice chairman from 1978 to 1986, when he first turned his gaze toward the speakership.

A political observer said Mr. Taylor saw Clay Mitchell as the likely winner and made the best deal he could under the circumstances -- support for Mr. Mitchell in return for the committee chairmanship he was awarded in 1987.

On his home front, Mr. Taylor has fought for economic development projects as an answer to Western Maryland's heavy loss of industrial jobs over the past decade -- chief among them a new state prison for Allegany County, and a resort conference center and golf course for Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland that remains in the financing stage.

In addition to his varied business, civic, religious and fraternal organization memberships, Mr. Taylor has served as president of the nonprofit Rocky Gap Foundation, which stages a popular annual bluegrass festival at the state park. That job briefly embroiled Mr. Taylor in controversy two years ago, when the state prosecutor looked into the foundation's finances and questions were raised about the possible commingling of state funds and election campaign dollars in 1990.

The conclusion of the investigator: No criminal wrongdoing.

But allegations that thousands of dollars could not be accounted for angered Mr. Taylor, who said the foundation was a victim of "Lapidesism." He charged that state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a Baltimore Democrat, had unfairly targeted nonprofit foundations such as Rocky Gap that are set up as private-public partnerships for economic development.

But most of the questions fueling the controversy came from another Allegany County legislator, Republican Sen. John J. Hafer.

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