The Man in the Mirror Said, 'Time to Go'

November 21, 1993|By BARRY RASCOVAR

Poor Clay Mitchell. Even on the day he suddenly announced his resignation from the second-most powerful post in Annapolis, he couldn't grab the headlines. He was aced out by the announcement of Maryland's $117 million unpaid bill to Blue Cross.

That's the way it seemed to go for the Eastern Shoreman. He never felt he got the respect he deserved during seven years as speaker of the House of Delegates. Only his problems made the headlines. His successes were barely noted.

Mr. Mitchell has a thinner skin than most politicians. He never fully adjusted to the constant pressure and hammering that a legislative leader takes. His shouting matches with the governor (and then their kiss-and-make-up sessions), his disputes with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the state prosecutor's probe of his real-estate dealings, the hand-holding a speaker does to appease 140 delegates, the constant lobbying to line up votes -- it all took a toll.

At the age of 57, Roy Clayton Mitchell Jr. decided he couldn't take it any more.

''I was shaving in the mirror several weeks ago, and I looked at myself and said, 'Hey, you've just got to get out.' ''

He felt he no longer had a private life, that he was being consumed by an ostensible part-time job that was really a full-time vocation. ''It was tough trying to lead a dual life any more. It was crushing in on me.''

''I dreaded going down on Tuesdays'' to Annapolis for committee meetings in the off-session, he admitted. ''I kept finding excuses for not going down.''

So he gave up what looked like a bright political future. He was an odds-on favorite to wind up as the state's next treasurer. But he couldn't even bear the thought of another difficult General Assembly session next year, carrying the water for a governor who has minimal influence in the legislature.

We may not have heard the last of R. Clayton Mitchell, though. He now is a prime candidate for lieutenant governor next year. If the right gubernatorial contender makes the right offer, who knows?

By then, Mr. Mitchell may have recharged his internal engines and be looking around for a new challenge. Then again, he may be content with playing grandpa, working at his Radio Shack store near the Bay Bridge and being recognized as an elder statesman on the Shore.

As for the House of Delegates, ''everyone will do fine,'' he said.

And sure enough, within days of Mr. Mitchell's resignation announcement, a new House leader emerged. It was, though, a bizarre twist that opened the door for Del. Casper R. Taylor of Cumberland to fulfill his longtime ambition to sit in the speaker's chair.

When Mr. Mitchell called in his leadership group to announce he was stepping down, he suggested that they select the speaker pro tem, Gary Alexander, for the next session. Mr. Alexander, who represents Prince George's County, isn't running for re-election. He seemed the perfect compromise.

That night, committee chairmen polled their panel members and found that they, too, favored Mr. Alexander. But Mr. Taylor refused to reveal his own committee's vote count. He made it clear he was running for speaker himself.

To everyone's surprise, Mr. Alexander suddenly announced he would not oppose Mr. Taylor's bid. He said he had no stomach for a fight and no reason to run against his friend, Cas Taylor. Simply by showing he was willing to fight for the job, Casper Taylor won.

Whatever the reason for this highly unusual scenario, it probably saves House members a year or more of divisive regional warfare. There was no logical successor to Mr. Mitchell. But there were a number of potential candidates, none of whom appeared eager to spend the Thanksgiving-Christmas period lobbying for votes. All had major flaws.

Nancy Kopp of Montgomery County had made enemies by trying to oust Mr. Mitchell last year. Tim Maloney of Prince George's County wins high praise for his legislative skill, but he hails from the same county as the Senate president, and that made lawmakers nervous. Howard ''Pete'' Rawlings of Baltimore hasn't been in good health and would prefer a run for speaker after the election. Paul Weisengoff of the city wanted the job but is viewed as a voice from the past. Ron Gunns from Cecil County and Bruce Poole of Washington County weren't viewed as experienced heavyweights.

Only Cas Taylor has been actively maneuvering to become speaker. As a rural delegate, he was acceptable to both urban and suburban factions, as well as to the Washington and Baltimore factions.

Though he is viewed as too cozy with business lobbyists, Mr. Taylor did a masterful job earlier this year pushing through landmark health-care reform. If he takes over as House speaker in January, he would gain a year's head start on potential foes for the post.

But given the ambitions of some of his rivals, and the vast changes in the legislature following the 1994 elections in re-drawn districts, Mr. Taylor may have to wage another fight 12 months from now to hold onto his prize.

Barry Rascovar is editorial-page director of The Sun. His column appears here each Sunday.

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