New Player in the State House

January 12, 1994

As the General Assembly commences its 90-day session today at noon, the delicate balance between the two chambers of the state legislature has shifted. Thomas V. Mike Miller remains in firm command in the Senate, but a new speaker, Casper R. Taylor, takes over the House of Delegates. For the moment, the two leaders are not co-equals.

All eyes in the State House will be focused on Mr. Taylor. In the past, the House has been the more influential of the two chambers because of the strong committee system that gives the House a more unified voice than the proudly individualistic Senate. Can Mr. Taylor continue that tradition? He has honed his skills as a savvy committee chairman and as a Western Maryland delegate for 20 years. Still, his ability to bring cohesion to a 141-member chamber is about to be tested.

R. Clayton Mitchell, who suddenly resigned as speaker last month, didn't leave his successor much time for transition. But Mr. Taylor acted swiftly to shake up the House committee structure in a way that pleases most delegates. He added a sixth committee -- Commerce and Government Matters -- and has distributed leadership posts more broadly. No longer do delegates from certain large jurisdictions, such as Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County -- feel slighted.

The new speaker is also a pivotal figure in the legislature's relations with the governor. It is no secret that Mr. Miller has worn out his welcome at the Governor's Mansion. He is quick to condemn Gov. William Donald Schaefer and reluctant to lobby fellow senators on behalf of the administration. He has his own agenda.

For instance, on building a football stadium, the governor and Mr. Miller are bitterly at odds. Mr. Taylor, though, has taken a typically cautious stance that is more in line with Mr. Schaefer's "let's wait and see what develops in getting an NFL team for Baltimore" approach than Mr. Miller's "let's kill the Baltimore stadium and give Jack Kent Cooke whatever he wants in Laurel" strategy.

On other matters, Mr. Taylor could be a soothing consensus-seeker. That's important in brokering deals with the hot-tempered Mr. Schaefer and the equally temperamental Mr. Miller. The new speaker also is more of a long-range, strategic thinker than other State House leaders. That's a trait sorely lacking in Annapolis these days.

Mr. Taylor starts off the session having compared himself to a 90-pound weakling wrestling Mr. Miller as an 800-pound gorilla. But 90 days from now, their positions could be reversed. The legislative circus is about to begin.

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