New dramas in Annapolis

January 12, 1994

Even though elections are many months away, the 1994 session of the General Assembly already reflects a major change. The abrupt resignation of R. Clayton Mitchell as House speaker last month left vacant one of the most powerful positions in Annapolis. It was quickly filled, when Del. Casper Taylor of Cumberland gathered enough support to sew up the election.

That was the easy part. Now Speaker Taylor will have to earn his stripes in the 90-day legislative free-for-all that convenes today. He has already pleased many of his House colleagues by revamping the committee system, adding a sixth committee, Commerce and Government Matters, and redistributing leadership assignments to reflect a better geographical distribution. Even so, in the coming weeks, legislators will no doubt test his authority, and his reactions will determine whether the House remains as disciplined a body as it was under Speaker Mitchell.

Speaker Taylor has been an effective voice for his Western Maryland district and an able committee chairman, but now he must put his stamp on the entire legislature. Across the State House, Senate President Mike Miller begins the session firmly in control of a body full of headstrong senators, many of whom are as temperamental as he is. That's an impressive accomplishment, but to get things done, Senator Miller must also compensate for the fact that he has no working relationship with Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Mr. Schaefer may be a lame duck, but he's still the governor, and the interplay of powerful personalities has a great deal to do with the final outcome of any legislative session. Speaker Taylor's ability to hold his own or even to shape these dramas will be a key to the accomplishments or failures of the next 90 days.

Election years are notorious for producing timid legislative sessions. Yet big issues still demand attention. For instance, the General Assembly made an impressive start last session on significant health care reform in the state. This year, it is important to tie up several loose ends so that progress already made here can be grandfathered into any national reform plan. That and other challenges will keep many eyes on Annapolis during the coming weeks.

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