By any standard, he is handsome, sharp, earnest, forthright -- and, by the way, he's thinking about raising your taxes.
David L. Winstead also happens to be a Republican.
As secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, Mr. Winstead is entrusted with a work force of nearly 11,000 people and a $2 billion budget. Those are big numbers to give a man who, before he was tapped by Gov. Parris N. Glendening for the Cabinet post in January, made his living as a Washington zoning lawyer.
Most of his predecessors arrived via the construction or engineering fields. The last secretary, former Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer, was a politician with eight years of experience managing county government.
Mr. Winstead had none of those credentials, although the Chevy Chase resident once toyed with the idea of running for county executive in Montgomery County.
But his background as lobbyist, business leader, political fund-raiser and growth advocate could prove helpful if the 47-year-old father of three can solve his agency's most vexing problem.
The department is running out of money to build roads and other transportation infrastructure -- not this year or even next, but eventually. The Transportation Trust Fund, the pool that pays for such projects, can't keep pace with state growth and still finance costly transit systems serving traffic-congested Washington and Baltimore.
In the past, the General Assembly and the governor simply raised the tax on gasoline every four or five years to pay for new road and transit projects. That gave the state a well-regarded network of highways, tunnels and bridges, but also one of the highest gasoline taxes in the nation -- 23.5 cents a gallon.
So the conundrum is this: In an era of tax-cutting, how do you continue to keep Maryland's commuters and businesses moving and still keep voters happy?
"It's going to be politically very difficult," Mr. Winstead conceded. "But we're not going to hide."
The secretary already has begun sounding out the department's traditional allies, business organizations and road contractors, to muster support for a tax increase. Such a coalition would be needed if the proposal is to win support in the General Assembly. After next year, taxes become too volatile an issue for legislators seeking re-election in 1998.
A gas tax increase would permit the department to pay for such future projects as the $300 million widening of the north and west sides of the Beltway, the upgrade of U.S. 29 and Route 32 in Howard County, a $130 million runway needed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and replacement of Woodrow Wilson Bridge on the Capital Beltway.
"From what I see, the 1996 session would be the only time when this could happen," said Mr. Winstead. "And it's the responsibility of this department to drive the process."
Tax pledge creates problems
The secretary's job has not been made any easier by a governor who has pledged no major tax increases. During the campaign, Mr. Glendening carved out an exception for the gas tax, but since his narrow victory has shown little interest in pursuing it.
"Glendening seems to want to duck the question," said Timothy F. Maloney, a former Prince George's County delegate.
Mr. Winstead is not unsympathetic to his boss and wants to look for ways to reduce spending. Taxes generally need to be lower, he said, if the "product of Maryland is to be priced competitively with other states."
In the last legislative session, he found $53 million in road improvements he could defer to stretch the budget. Traditionally, the department has spent money as it became available.
It won't be the last compromise Mr. Winstead will have to forge if he is to succeed in his new role. If he wrote out a "To Do" list, it likely would read:
* Find a new director for the Maryland Port Administration. Mr. Winstead has been scrambling to replace Michael P. Angelos, who resigned this year in the face of a grand jury investigation into alleged insider stock-trading. The vacancy has been a competitive liability for the port, a sign of instability.
* Solve the transit question. The cost of running two transit systems is slowly strangling the trust fund. Despite the fact that Washington's Metro system is only partially controlled by Maryland, the secretary must find ways to reduce transit operating deficits -- respectful of transit unions, strong supporters of Mr. Glendening.
* Do more with less. Setting aside the tax issue, Mr. Winstead wants to use technology to increase highway capacity without spending a lot of money. He is hoping a new traffic operations center outside BWI Airport will manage movement on roads more efficiently.
* Link development with transportation. Too often, counties don't plan for growth around transportation infrastructure. The result is both sprawl and congestion, an inefficiency the state no longer can afford. "We have to find a way to dictate growth in transportation corridors that can handle growth," Mr. Winstead said.