Map might weaken Taylor

Redistricting may dilute House speaker's support

More Republicans in District 1C

Incumbent says he enjoys `very strong base'

Election 2002

September 23, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Election after election, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., one of the state's most powerful Democrats, was sent back to Annapolis by his district - an island of mostly Democratic liberals in a sea of Western Maryland Republicans.

But this time, redistricting has changed Taylor's political reality, presenting him with his first major general election challenge in years.

The Court of Appeals' new legislative map increased the number of Republicans in Taylor's district and moved a leading GOP candidate, LeRoy E. Myers Jr., into that House of Delegates race.

"Casper Taylor is taking his race and his re-election seriously," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, House majority leader. "I believe he'll win. He has delivered for Western Maryland."

Republicans, who are making the race between Taylor and Myers one of their top priorities, argue otherwise. They say that Taylor, a delegate since 1975, has become too "cozy" with special interests in Annapolis to the neglect of his base constituency.

"Cas Taylor is completely out of touch with his district," said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "LeRoy is concerned about the community, not the special interests that the speaker is so cozy with."

Myers, 50, a lifelong resident of Washington County and local businessman, decided in January to make a run for a delegate seat. At that time, he was looking at a different district under Gov. Parris N. Glendening's earlier redistricting plan.

But when the court rejected that plan as unconstitutional and redrew the map, it moved Myers into Taylor's district. Despite facing one of Annapolis' most powerful men, Myers said he remained committed to serving in the legislature.

"I know I could do better," said Myers, owner of a family contracting business in Washington County that employs 40.

`An ideal candidate'

"LeRoy's a great guy," Ellington said. "He's an ideal candidate. He feels he can really serve the community. He feels it's the right thing to do and he's committed to it."

This year's election is a pivotal one for Maryland. The Democratic Party is working feverishly to retain its leaders as Republicans launch tough challenges.

At the top, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democratic nominee for governor, is trailing Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in recent polls. And Taylor is working harder than he has in recent campaigns to ensure that he doesn't lose his seat.

"This is not the easiest election in the world," Comptroller William Donald Schaefer told a Democratic crowd that gathered at a Taylor fund-raiser last week. "It's going to take everyone of you working together to elect the whole team."

In his map, Glendening had given Taylor a safe district that included mostly Democrats in the Cumberland area of Allegany County and some Washington County Republicans, similar to his previous district.

More Republican voters

But the court's map shifted District 1C further east, picking up more Republicans and Myer's house. The registered voters in the new district are evenly spilt between Democrats and Republicans.

The 67-year-old Taylor says he is not bothered by Myers' challenge and thinks that even with the changes to his district he will handily defeat his opponent.

"I have a very strong base in both counties," Taylor said. "That constituency has been there all my life. It's always supported me."

Taylor said he has enjoyed bipartisan support, in part, because he has remained grounded in the values of his community.

"I've been a small businessman all my life," Taylor said. "I'm a family person. I'm a very devout Catholic."

Myers also enjoys bipartisan backing. Some local Democrats refer to him as a well-liked businessman and family man with a strong reputation in the district.

Democratic leaders, however, say they believe Taylor's reputation and long service will return him to the General Assembly.

As House speaker, Taylor oversees the 141-member House of Delegates, a position he has held since 1994. The speaker makes committee assignments and appoints delegates to leadership positions, which are powerful tools in winning passage of legislation.

"The people of Western Maryland would not want to lose Casper Taylor as speaker of the House," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat.

Benefit at home

But Myers said residents don't see the effects of Taylor's influential leadership position on their community.

"They don't see him doing as much as he takes credit for when it comes to economic development," he said.

Myers said Taylor also professes to be a supporter of the National Rifle Association, which has strong supporters in Western Maryland where hunting is popular, but he has voted against NRA interests.

"The people in District 1C," Myers said, "are looking for a delegate who pays attention to them."

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