Call it a reward for his bipartisan approach. Or a reflection of the lack of bench strength in the state Senate. Or simply a tribute to his intelligence and deep understanding of state fiscal issues.
The pending appointment of John A. Cade, the Senate's Republican floor leader, as chairman of one of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly's budget subcommittees is probably all of those things.
The decision by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. to elevate the 20-year Republican veteran is highly unusual, possibly unprecedented. It is a move that could cause the Prince George's County Democrat problems with some of his fellow Democrats, who may believe that leadership jobs should be reserved for members of the majority party.
"I would imagine those who do not know the role Jack Cade has played during the past several sessions with regard to the lTC budgetary process might question a decision such as this," Mr. Miller said. "But I would call those persons either uninformed Democrats or small-minded Democrats."
Mr. Cade will become chairman of the Budget and Taxation subcommittee on health, education and human resources, a panel on which he has served and which oversees the budgets of state agencies that deal with those issues.
Senate President Pro Tem Frederick C. Malkus Jr., a Dorchester County Democrat who first came to the legislature in 1947, said he does not recall any instance when the majority party named a member of the minority party to chair a standing committee or one of its major subcommittees. In Mr. Cade's case, however, it makes sense, he said.
"I figure what Mike is doing is not passing by the real, real value that Cade can give to a committee," Mr. Malkus said.
Mr. Cade, a Severna Park resident who once served on the Anne Arundel County Council, said he was flattered and honored to be chosen, and said he doubted that his fellow senators would resent him for it.
"We haven't been overly partisan in the Senate. We've been a pretty collegial body," he said.
Although he has not been a chairman before, Mr. Cade has been one of the most influential members of the Senate for years, especially on budget matters. A big, gruff man who does not suffer fools gladly, Mr. Cade has been one of those rare legislators whose personal positions on issues have often swayed others.
On the Senate floor, Mr. Cade scrutinizes legislation from other committees with an eye to detail exhibited by only a few of his colleagues. Over the years, the wisest Cabinet secretaries and other savvy bureaucrats have learned never to surprise Mr. Cade, but rather to meet with him in advance in an effort to get him on their side before some controversial issue is presented before his committee.
In short, he has been a de facto member of the Senate's leadership for years. The new title merely makes it official.
Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who will take over chairmanship of the budget committee from defeated Montgomery County Sen. Laurence Levitan, said only five of the panel's 13 members are returning, and two of them -- including Mr. Cade -- are Republicans. Three of those who left, Mr. Levitan, Julian L. Lapides of Baltimore and Charles H. Smelser of Carroll County, had a combined 92 years of legislative experience. "It seemed to me, and to President Miller, that we went with the quality available, someone with the background and the experience," Ms. Hoffman said.
Unlike his Republican counterparts in the House who played hardball politics the past eight years, Mr. Cade has always cooperated with the Democratic majority, although he has never been reluctant to object to bills, programs or positions with which he disagrees.
"When it came time to cut the budget during the past four years, Senator Cade was a willing participant," Mr. Miller said. "And when it came time to raise revenues, Senator Cade was an active participant and recognized the needs of the state."
"He has been able to put aside some of the partisan rhetoric for the good of the state," Ms. Hoffman added, "and we felt this was not a partisan issue, that he was the best person to chair a subcommittee."
Mr. Miller also said he wanted to avoid the sort of legislative gridlock that has slowed the movement of bills on Capitol Hill.
With 20 of 47 Senate seats changing hands, and with the Republican contingent growing from nine to 15, Mr. Miller said, having Mr. Cade as a member of the core leadership group should reduce the likelihood of paralyzing filibusters led by the Senate's minority leader.