Dixon's power increases in House

January 22, 1995|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

From where Del. Richard N. Dixon sits, he's king of Carroll County's legislative hill.

His bid for state treasurer -- one of three seats on the Board of Public Works -- ended with his withdrawal Thursday. But the Democrat from Westminster, now chairman of the Appropriations Committee's Capital Budget subcommittee, is still wielding more power than any of his peers in the county delegation.

"I'm getting calls from people who used to just pass me on the street before," said Mr. Dixon, who was appointed to the chairmanship last month by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. The subcommittee controls construction money and bond sales for schools and other projects throughout Maryland.

"Being chairman of that subcommittee has immense power," Mr. Dixon said.

"It's a win-win situation for me. I'll be looking at things on a statewide basis, but I'll always have a special view of Carroll County, of course," he said.

In his bid for the treasurer's position, the odds were stacked against the Carroll County native from the beginning.

Many political observers felt the delegate had little chance of reaching his goal. Lucille Maurer -- who was re-elected treasurer on Friday -- was a Montgomery County delegate for 18 years, has held the position since 1987 and is very popular with legislators.

Even Mr. Dixon said the race was "like running against Mother Theresa."

After a joint House-Senate committee voted Tuesday to endorse Mrs. Maurer, Delegate Dixon's fate was sealed. He withdrew his name from consideration late Thursday.

Still, early in the race, the delegate thought he had a fighting chance to win.

"I have to be an optimistic guy, I'm a securities broker," said Mr. Dixon, who has worked with Merrill Lynch for 25 years.

"I'm one of the most qualified members of the General Assembly for this position."

Beating the odds

A bit of an anomaly in Carroll County politics, Mr. Dixon has often beaten the political odds during his 12 years in the Maryland legislature.

During the last election, he was the only Democrat to win an office in the strongly conservative county.

And he is the only African-American elected to the General Assembly from Carroll County, which is only 2 percent black.

"I'm local," Mr. Dixon said last fall. "I grew up in the county. My values and philosophy are that of 95 percent of the population."

That conservative background -- along with his professional, educational and legislative experience -- should have been enough to win him a seat on the Board of Public Works, Mr. Dixon said.

Mr. Dixon has a master's degree in business administration and has been co-chairman of the Joint Budget and Audit Committee and the Special Joint Committee on Pensions for the past eight years.

"The comptroller collects the taxes, the treasurer invests them," Mr. Dixon said.

"I'm conservative, and I represent a rural area. I have the energy to provide independent leadership for the 21st century."

Having run in a race that he was likely to lose might even have been beneficial for Mr. Dixon, county delegation members said.

"He may be laying the foundation for running for the position again," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Republican from Manchester.

"I can't see where putting his name into the competition for the position hurts him or the county.

"In my view, legislators have as much respect for the loser as they do for the winner in these races. We're just in a phase of the process where we choose our leaders."

Members of the Carroll County delegation and local officials also said that Mr. Dixon's leadership in his subcommittee chairmanship will be valuable to the county.

Influence, money

The subcommittee chairmanship -- Carroll County's first in about 30 years -- is one that should bring more influence and possibly more money to an area in need of schools and road improvements.

"I see him making certain that Carroll County is fairly treated," said Del. Donald B. Elliott, a Republican from New Windsor who has served with Mr. Dixon for eight years.

"He's always understood his interests to be the entire state of Maryland, that's his job," Mr. Elliott said. "To do anything different would be not to do his job, and I don't see it in Richard to not do his job.

"But we can expect he would give us a fair shake that I think at times we've not received at that level."

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, a Democrat from Union Bridge, was chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation's Capital Budget Subcommittee. The 27-year lawmaker retired last year.

In some ways, Mr. Dixon's chairmanship can be seen as passing the county mantle from one local legislative veteran to the other, said L. Gregory Pecoraro, head of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee.

"It's good for us, retaining that influence. It gives him [Mr. Dixon] a great deal of influence and a recognition of Richard's ability," Mr. Pecoraro said.

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