The Capital Gang Heads for the Exits

April 10, 1994|By BARRY RASCOVAR

A whirlwind of change is about to hit the State House. Not just in the governor's office but in the General Assembly.

After tomorrow night's sine die adjournment, the rush to the exit door could resemble a stampede. There's even a chance every committee chairman in the state Senate will be replaced next session; a majority of top House leaders could be new, too.

It's no longer fun playing state delegate or senator. The public blames incumbents for everything wrong with government.

Citizens usually don't know the difference between a delegate in Annapolis and a councilman or commissioner back home or a congressman in Washington. All of them get blamed for too-high taxes, too-high spending and too little in the way of services.

The cacophony of angry, irrational voices demanding change has gotten so loud that a large number of legislators in the State House are getting out -- for good.

Some are running for other offices. And thanks to redistricting, many incumbents find themselves in exceptionally difficult re-election races.

Add it all up and the result could be a radically transformed Senate and a surprisingly different House.

7+ Look at the present leadership lineups:

SENATE

President Mike Miller isn't assured of another term as that chamber's leader, though he would be tough to knock off. From time to time he, too, talks of getting out of the rat race in which blame is always placed on legislators but not much in the way of thanks. Mr. Miller, though, is likely to run for another term.

Still, a massive turnover of senators could weaken his base of support; some of his most reliable allies are leaving.

President Pro Tem Frederick Malkus is finally retiring after 47 years, giving up this largely ceremonial post.

Finance Committee chairman Thomas O'Reilly is opting for a spot on the Workmen's Compensation Commission.

Budget chairman Laurence Levitan is regarded by many observers as an underdog for re-election in November against popular Del. Jean Roesser in Montgomery County.

Sen. Clarence Blount (Economic and Environmental Affairs) had a quadruple heart bypass operation in the past year and is under family pressure not to run again.

And Sen. Walter Baker (Judicial Proceedings) has at various times talked of getting away from all the guff he has to put up with in Annapolis.

HOUSE

Speaker Casper Taylor has done exceedingly well, on short notice, this session, but his chances of serving as House leader in 1995 remain clouded

Foes of gun-control legislation have talked about trying to defeat him back home in Cumberland. Mr. Taylor voted against the bill banning assault-style pistols but gun advocates are angry he didn't wield all the power of his office on their behalf.

Even if he is re-elected, Mr. Taylor will face a transformed House with three or four dozen new members who have no loyalties to him. A challenge from dissidents who came close to dumping last year's speaker, Clayton Mitchell, is a distinct possibility.

Mr. Taylor's strategist, Speaker Pro Tem Gary Alexander, is retiring and will join the lobbying corps in the State House hallways.

Ways and Means chairwoman Sheila Hixson is talked about as a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Appropriations chairman Pete Rawlings continues to be bothered by health problems.

And Commerce and Government Matters chairman Gerry Curran no sure shot for re-election in a redrawn district with a large number of minority voters.

Even the Republicans in Annapolis face major changes. Senate Minority Leader Jack Cade early on said he would retire, though there's still a chance he will reconsider and either seek re-election or run for statewide office. House Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey is actively campaigning for governor.

With an influx of a large number of Republican legislators expected in the Assembly, there's no telling if the next batch of GOP leaders will be pragmatic coalition-builders or contentious bridge-burners.

That only adds to the instability likely to occur in the General Assembly after tomorrow's adjournment. Marylanders almost definitely will get the change they have been seeking. But will they be any more satisfied with the new leadership lineups?

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

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