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Hoyer's Drawn-Out Visit to Annapolis Fuels Musings

By John Wagner and Matthew Mosk
Sunday, January 16, 2005; Page C04

Aquarter of a century has passed since U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer presided over the Maryland Senate. But his extended visit to Annapolis for the start of the 2005 legislative session last week had many state lawmakers wondering whether Hoyer (D) has designs on a more permanent homecoming.

Since Democrats lost the governor's office in 2002, they have engaged in endless musing about who might offer them the best hope of recapturing the seat from Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. That talk has centered largely on the two most openly interested potential candidates, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

But Hoyer's name has emerged more recently as a possible spoiler.

The speculation has been fueled in part by Hoyer's acknowledged frustration with Republican rule in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has spent 24 years, including the past two as minority whip.

"I have been in the minority for the last 10 years, and I don't like it," Hoyer told an annual Democratic luncheon in Annapolis on Tuesday, one day before the start of the legislature's regular session.

At the luncheon, which Duncan attended but O'Malley missed while on a trip to Israel, Hoyer said he was confident that whichever of the Democrats' "great candidates" for governor emerges, that candidate will be victorious against Ehrlich in 2006. Hoyer did not mention any Democrats by name.

Hoyer then returned to Annapolis on Wednesday, addressing the Senate during its opening day session. The former president of the chamber reminisced about his time in Annapolis and called for greater unity between the two political parties.

During his time in the capital city, Hoyer also held separate, closed-door meetings with House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). The possibility of Hoyer running for governor did not come up in either meeting, according to people familiar with those discussions.

So is there reason to consider him a contender in 2006? Hoyer's staff offered this response Friday, which appeared designed to silence rumors while not firmly shutting the door on the possibility:

"Congressman Hoyer is focused completely on representing the Fifth District's interests, succeeding as a strong Whip, helping take back the House as a Democratic leader, and he has no plans to run for anything other than re-election and House Majority Leader when Democrats are back in the majority in 2007."

Refreshed and Reconsidering

It's amazing what a few hours of shut-eye can do for one's outlook on life. Just ask Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County).

After Democrats pushed a medical malpractice bill through a special session of the General Assembly in the predawn hours of Dec. 30, Harris was so dispirited, he said, that he was considering quitting the Senate. After getting some sleep, however, he changed his mind -- and decided to send out a fundraising letter soliciting campaign contributions of "$500, $250 or even $100."

"Driving home from Annapolis this morning at 5 a.m., having lost to the trial lawyers, I felt that maybe there was no hope in ever getting meaningful tort reform, and that there was no real reason for me to stay in the Senate," Harris, the chamber's only doctor, wrote in his Dec. 30 letter. "But after a few hours sleep, it became clear that physicians need more, not fewer, voices in the Senate, and I'm ready to gear up for next year's re-election run."

Seeking a Shift in Power

With the legislature now in session, Andrew P. Harris, the Senate minority whip, is pushing to give Republicans greater say over their own affairs.

Under a rule change Harris proposed Friday, the Senate president would no longer assign Republicans to Senate committees. That power would instead fall to the Senate minority leader.

Harris also suggested that Republicans be allowed to formally designate a "ranking member" of each committee who would be entitled to correspondence sent to committee leadership. The impetus for that change, the Baltimore County Republican said, was "a letter of concern" written late last year by the Department of Legislative Services about a controversial land deal in St. Mary's County. The letter was not initially distributed to any Republicans, Harris said.

Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's) said the Rules Committee, which he chairs, will discuss the proposed changes Tuesday.

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