Assembly convenes in celebrative mood

January 13, 1994|By Marina Sarris and John W. Frece | Marina Sarris and John W. Frece,Staff Writers

Free of the financial worries of the past three years, an upbeat Maryland General Assembly convened its 90-day session yesterday by looking both forward and back, warmly welcoming a new House speaker and honoring a trio of veteran senators.

The House of Delegates formally elected Democrat Casper R. Taylor Jr. as its speaker, the first to hail from Allegany County. More than 100 Western Marylanders traveled across the state to honor their native son, swelling a chamber already filled with congressmen, gubernatorial candidates, television crews and 141 delegates.

The delegates appeared more than a little enthusiastic about their new speaker, whose style is more gentle than that of his predecessor, R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., who resigned last month.

Across the marble hallway of the historic State House, already jammed this first day with lobbyists, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, was re-elected Senate president.

He pledged cooperation not only with Mr. Taylor, but also with his sometimes nemesis, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

As he has done the last two years, Mr. Miller presented the Senate version of a lifetime achievement award to former Senate President James Clark of Howard County and to two incumbents, Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore pTC and Minority Leader John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County.

Mr. Clark was honored for his leadership in land conservation and civil rights, Mr. Blount for his calming influence on an often unruly Senate and Mr. Cade for his intellect and often blunt honesty.

The two chambers and the State House halls were thick with candidates yesterday, including almost every announced candidate for governor and some who have not yet jumped into the race.

Former state Sen. Stewart Bainum Jr. of Montgomery County, who is considering a run for governor, popped up for the first time in years yesterday. Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, a Baltimore Democrat already in the gubernatorial race, eyed his potential rival from afar and joked that he had heard that Mr. Bainum sent out more Christmas cards this year than normal.

The first day of a legislative session is traditionally given to

ceremony and back-slapping. But the real work begins today, when various committees will take up Jack Kent Cooke's plan to build a Redskins football stadium in Laurel, stagnant lottery revenues and funding for Baltimore schools.

Mr. Schaefer made an unexpected appearance in the House chamber to demonstrate his long friendship with the new speaker. Mr. Schaefer, like other Taylor fans, sported a gold lapel sticker proclaiming Jan. 12 as "Cas Taylor Day." Mr. Taylor is the first speaker from Western Maryland in a more than a century.

After an opening prayer by his brother-in-law, a Roman Catholic priest, Mr. Taylor asked for God's blessing and called for deeper answers to society's problems.

He said he expected his colleagues to begin attacking problems in education funding and the criminal justice system, but he cautioned that their work alone cannot solve the "dysfunctions of our society."

"We must find a way to re-establish the social underpinning of our society -- our family, our moral, our civic, our religious fabric and quality of life." The solution, he said, is to raise "the self-esteem in our young people."

Mr. Schaefer will have his own turn at the podium at noon today when he makes his final State of the State address.

The governor is expected to unveil his legislative agenda, including measures to outlaw the sale of 18 models of assault pistols, raise the tax on cigarettes and set up a reform school for disruptive students.

The 188-member legislature begins this session with numerous changes in the House: a new presiding officer, three new committee chairmen, a brand-new committee and three first-time delegates who replaced members who either resigned or died since the 1993 session ended.

"I never dreamed the chamber would be so emotion-packed. It was overwhelming," said one of the newcomers, Democratic Del. Theodore J. Sophocleus of Anne Arundel County.

In the newly created Commerce and Government Matters Committee, chairman Gerald J. Curran of Baltimore asked members to introduce themselves.

"I'm an unreconstructed, left-wing, New Deal liberal and I'm pro-labor," said Montgomery County Democrat Leon Billings.

"I love guns, cigarettes and big dogs," said George W. Owings III, a conservative Calvert Democrat.

A new member of the panel is John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat with a long, unusual legislative past. He rose to be House majority leader, lost a race for the state Senate, won re-election to the House and became majority leader a second time. He chaired two committees, was appointed a judge last year, lost that job as a result of sexual harassment allegations, then was reappointed to the House to replace his own replacement, who died.

"As you all know," he said by way of introduction, "I've been in and out of here more times than Billy Martin managing the Yankees."

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