3 in race to become next state treasurer

Kopp is early favorite

Taylor calls delegate well-suited for job

January 23, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

Three veteran legislators, and possibly a fourth, are vying to become Maryland's next treasurer.

Del. Nancy K. Kopp of Montgomery County and John W. Douglass, a former Baltimore delegate who now lives in Montgomery, announced their candidacies yesterday. Del. Pauline H. Menes of Prince George's County entered the race last week.

Del. John S. Arnick of Baltimore County is considering a run, he said yesterday, and other names could surface before lawmakers interview candidates next week.

But Kopp appears to be the early favorite. Her candidacy was boosted yesterday by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., whose chamber ultimately controls who becomes treasurer because delegates constitute a majority of the legislature's 188 members.

Taylor, stopping short of an endorsement, said Kopp, 58, was extremely well-suited to the job.

"She has a complete understanding of the fiscal system of this state, and she has a complete and deep commitment to the historical perspective of this institution," Taylor said.

The General Assembly elects the treasurer and considers that person the legislature's voice on the three-member Board of Public Works, which approves major state contracts. The treasurer also oversees the state's investments.

Noting poor health, Treasurer Richard N. Dixon said last week he would step down Feb. 1. The legislature is moving quickly to replace him. A joint House-Senate committee will interview candidates and is to choose a nominee Jan. 31. A vote of the full General Assembly is scheduled for Feb. 5.

Together, the three candidates have spent 85 years in the legislature. All are Democrats.

Kopp, a member since 1975, sits on the House Appropriations Committee, and heads a subcommittee that deals with education and economic development. She is also the House chairwoman of the Spending Affordability Committee, which tries to make sure the budget is within the state's means.

Although she holds some leadership positions, Kopp's colleagues sometimes chide her that if she had played her cards right, she could have been speaker by now. A decade ago, when she was speaker pro tem, she crossed then-Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. and was demoted.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a Kopp supporter, said she has an acute understanding of the state budget.

In a letter she distributed yesterday to fellow lawmakers, Kopp noted her fiduciary expertise. "I know that the treasurer must be constantly attentive to the value of our state's fiscal assets, and must be always informed about economic trends, prudent investments and sound fiscal management. I believe that I am prepared to play this role," she wrote.

Menes, who was first elected in 1967, challenged the notion that sitting on the Appropriations Committee was a prerequisite for treasurer. "I find that rather a strange tie-in since the bottom line is, we need more money," she said. Experts take care of the state's investments, she added.

Menes, 77, has an economics degree, but her work in Annapolis has mainly been on the Judiciary Committee. She also heads a special committee on drug and alcohol abuse, and is known for her support of civil rights. When she ran for treasurer in 1995 against Dixon, who is black, she was endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Douglass, 59, retired from the legislature in 1994 after serving 23 years as a delegate from Baltimore. He moved to Montgomery County eight years ago and, although he works in state government as deputy director of the Department of Assessments and Taxation, he is unknown to some lawmakers, putting him at a disadvantage.

To remedy that, Douglass has begun knocking on legislators' office doors, sometimes accompanied by his most active supporter, Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat.

Douglass also has a long history of involvement with the state's finances and describes himself as a fiscal conservative. He served on the Appropriations Committee for many years, and sponsored the constitutional amendment requiring that Maryland have a balanced budget. He also ran for treasurer in 1995.

Douglass is African-American and is seeking support from the Legislative Black Caucus, among other groups. Some black lawmakers say they would like to replace Dixon with another African-American.

The caucus will meet tomorrow and plans to recommend one or two candidates, said its chairman, Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat. But with the Prince George's delegation backing Menes, the group's support is likely to be somewhat split.

Meanwhile, Montgomery delegates - who now have two county residents in the race - say they would like one of their own occupying the treasurer's position. Most appear to be backing Kopp.

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