GOP surge alters look of Assembly ELECTION 1994

November 10, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Robert Erlandson contributed to this article.

Montgomery County voters threw their most powerful state senator -- Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan -- out of office Tuesday.

Baltimore County voters did the same thing to their most powerful state delegate, ousting House Majority Leader Kenneth H. Masters.

In counties across Maryland -- in Howard, Washington, Anne Arundel and elsewhere -- the Democratic power elite of the General Assembly discovered that their fancy titles and big positions in Annapolis were liabilities back home.

"Absolutely! No question about it," said Mr. Levitan, a legislator for the past 24 years and chairman of the Senate's budget committee the past 16, who like other legislative leaders, said he was penalized by voters for taking a statewide view rather than a parochial one more favorable to his constituents.

His loss, coupled with the defeats of other Democratic delegates and senators, and the decisions of many other incumbents to retire or seek other offices, recast the makeup of Maryland's Assembly and gave it the most Republican hue it has had in 74 years.

"Anti-incumbency manifested itself big-time," said Mr. Masters, who survived a tough primary fight only to finish last in a four-way race for two seats representing his Catonsville area subdistrict.

Although the outcome of several races still could be changed once absentee ballots are counted, it appears that 61 of the 141 delegates and 20 of the 47 senators will be new.

In the Senate, two of four committee chairmen are gone, as is the dean of the legislature, President Pro Tem Frederick C. Malkus Jr. of Dorchester County, who is retiring after 48 years in Annapolis.

Typical of Tuesday's results, Senator Malkus' long-held Democratic seat went to a Republican, former Del. Richard Colburn.

"They kind of turned [the Senate] upside down," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat.

The 25-member Republican caucus in the House grew to as many as 40 (25 of whom will be freshmen), and the nine-member GOP contingent in the Senate expanded to 15. The gains exceeded even Republican expectations.

The last time there were more than 65 Republicans in Maryland's General Assembly was 1920.

"Maryland is finally following the rest of the country," said Del. Robert H. Kittleman of Howard County, the minority whip of the House. Most Southern states, he said, have already moved toward more balanced two-party legislatures or even GOP control. Already, he said, there are so many House Republicans that they need a larger room in which to hold caucus meetings.

The Republican trend started in Maryland in 1990. Yesterday, flushed with the success of Tuesday's election, Mr. Kittleman predicted that Maryland's GOP could take control of the General Assembly four years from now.

If nothing else, he said, issues before the legislature will be debated in ways not permitted under strict Democratic control.

"Leadership won't have anywhere near the absolute control or lock it had in the past," he said. "They used to be able to do anything they wanted to do. Now, that is going to come to an end."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said he is worried the shift in makeup will end in legislative gridlock, much like what has happened in Congress.

"There will be a great temptation on my Republican colleagues to perhaps practice some unhealthy partisanship," he said. "I will implore them not to do that. It has to be a two-way street."

Mr. Taylor interpreted Tuesday's 50-50 split vote in the governor's race, and the defeat of many Democratic stalwarts, as a sign that both parties must move more to the center.

"I think my job is to prevent the polarization," he said.

"The way to do that is to avoid the extreme left and avoid the extreme right."

With the exception of Mr. Masters, Mr. Taylor emerged from the election with most of his House leadership team intact. But in the Senate, Mr. Miller must find replacements for Senators Malkus, Levitan and Thomas P. O'Reilly, who left the Finance Committee chairmanship to take a state job.

Sen. Barbara Hoffman of Baltimore is the odds-on favorite to replace Mr. Levitan, a move that would give the city the chairmanship of the budget committees of both houses. In the pull-and-tug for state dollars, that could be a loss for Montgomery County -- a message that Mr. Levitan said he could not convey to constituents who already blamed him for bringing home too little to Montgomery.

"I couldn't sell the fact that if I wasn't there it would be worse," he said.

Sen. Michael J. Wagner of Anne Arundel County, who chairs the committee that reviews appointments by the governor, also got the boot. So did Del. Virginia M. Thomas of Howard County, a committee vice chair who was trying to move up to the Senate.

Del. D. Bruce Poole of Washington County also nearly paid the price for votes on taxes and issues he took when he was House majority leader. He won re-election Tuesday by a mere 10 votes, a lead that was extended to 72 after absentees were counted yesterday.

There will be so many new faces in both houses when the assembly convenes in January that Speaker Taylor and President Miller have decided to take the freshmen on a five-day, hands-on tour of the state.

Beginning Dec. 11 at the Camden Yards stadium in Baltimore, the new lawmakers will be taken to Western Maryland by train, to College Park and Southern Maryland by bus, to Crisfield by boat, and then up the Eastern Shore and back to Baltimore by bus, arriving Dec. 15.

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