House speaker ponders move up

Taylor is said considering bid for lieutenant governor

February 05, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Having mastered one of the most powerful government positions in Maryland, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. is contemplating a new job that would move his office up one flight of State House stairs.

Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat, wants Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend to consider him as a running mate, political sources say. It's a selection that must be made before she files papers this summer making her an official candidate for governor.

In the early weeks of a legislative session dominated more by politics than policy, talk of Taylor's future competes with buzz over legislative and congressional redistricting and the impending election decisions of Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

For at least a year, tongues wagged over the Cumberland native's desire to become the next state treasurer, a low-profile job that supplies one of three votes on the influential state Board of Public Works.

But when Treasurer Richard N. Dixon announced last month he was retiring because of failing health, Taylor, 67, promptly took himself out of the running for the vacancy. Instead, he threw his support behind Del. Nancy K. Kopp of Montgomery County, who has been nominated by a selection committee and is expected to be chosen by the General Assembly today.

After Taylor deferred, many lawmakers concluded that he would rather relocate to the executive offices on the second floor of the State House, up from the first-floor speaker's suite. "I know he is interested in being lieutenant governor, and I think he would be a terrific lieutenant governor," Kopp said.

The view is shared - at least in public - by dozens of delegates who owe their committee chairmanships, local projects and legislative successes to the reflective and low-key former tavern owner. Taylor should remain speaker as long as he wants, they say in prefacing their remarks, but he'd make a great right-hand man.

Only one opinion counts, however, and Townsend is saying little about whom she might tap. "Speaker Taylor is a great leader," she said. "We're focusing at this time on the legislative session and serving the people of Maryland."

Taylor, too, is reluctant to speak of his aspirations, especially in the middle of a General Assembly session with scores of bills to consider and looming battles over whether to implement the final phase of an income tax reduction and where to cut a tight budget.

"I've got too much to think about," he said. "I have conversations with [Townsend] all the time about all kinds of things. I have never had a conversation with her about running mates."

Asked if he was interested in the job, Taylor shifted his gaze to a distant spot, paused for several seconds and said, "No comment."

But there are hints of desire. Approached recently by a reporter seeking his opinion on poll results relating to taxation and education, Taylor glanced at the thick, three-ring binder of survey data and asked: "Is there anything in there about lieutenant governor?"

The running-mate choice is one of the top bar-stool conversation starters in Annapolis, a town where political rumors run like electrical current.

"Townsend needs to put a distinguished and prominent legislator on the ticket to be able to deal with a very strong legislative body that takes its prerogatives very seriously," said John N. Bambacus, a Frostburg State University political science professor and former state senator. "Cas would fit the bill.

"As the speaker, he has a statewide organization already in place," Bambacus added. "There is probably not a delegate, or for that matter many senators, who are not beholden to him. He's been there nine years [as speaker]. He could call in a lot of chits."

Taylor might not be a perfect choice, however. He hails from sparsely populated Western Maryland, so he is little known by most of the state's voters who live in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs. His thoughtful speaking style and kindly uncle appearance are more suited to quiet negotiating sessions than a slick media campaign.

His anti-abortion views are starkly different from Townsend's, and his objections to gun control have irked the Glendening administration.

Townsend aides say loyalty - a Taylor strength - will be a prime factor in her choice. But if she seeks racial diversity, or looks for help in Montgomery County, the state's most populous jurisdiction and considered a must-win for a statewide candidate, other politicians would offer more.

"As in the case of a president choosing a vice president, politics as well as competency will play a major role," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "As a team player, as a friend, as someone who works well with legislators, he would be a fine choice. But she has a multitude of factors to consider."

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