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Taylor Seizes the Moment

Casper R. Taylor Jr.
Casper R. Taylor Jr.

By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 19, 1995; Page M01

In last year's Legislative Follies, in which Maryland legislators annually spoof their colleagues and themselves, House of Delegates Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. portrayed a pope surrounded by his committee chairmen as cardinals.

Although the papacy is beyond his true ambitions, Taylor is serving notice that he intends to be a force in Maryland politics to rival even the new governor.

Taylor, a somber Democrat from mountainous Allegany County in Western Maryland, remains largely unknown in most parts of the state. But last week he seized upon a temporary void in political power to roll out an ambitious legislative package of lobbying reforms and tax-cut proposals.

The package's scope loomed especially large because the state Senate has made no similar effort, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) was not inaugurated until yesterday. In essence, Taylor's plan was the only game in town for the General Assembly's opening week, giving his House leadership team the early momentum in the 90-day session.

"He wanted to grab the agenda, and I think he's done that," said Del. John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery), whom Taylor made House majority leader. "He's pretty action-oriented."

Taylor's activism may present Glendening with challenges that former governor William Donald Schaefer (D) did not face. Schaefer had forged close ties with Taylor and the previous House speaker, R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent). They often formed a united front against the Senate leadership, strengthening Schaefer's hand on tough issues.

Taylor has promised to cooperate with the new governor, but he is indicating that he will chart a more independent course this time. "This legislature must not wait for others to act," Taylor said in his 23-minute speech on the day the General Assembly convened -- a speech that several listeners likened to a governor's State of the State Address.

Taylor, 60, seriously considered running for governor last year, and associates say he still yearns for the state's highest post. His ambitions, coupled with his far-reaching legislative package, prompted talk in Annapolis last week that Taylor might try to thwart Glendening in hopes of challenging him for the gubernatorial nomination in 1998. Several political analysts dismiss the idea, and sources close to Glendening say they are convinced that Taylor realizes it could backfire politically if he tried to undermine the governor in the General Assembly.

In an interview, Taylor brushed aside talk of his gubernatorial ambitions. "I can't control what people say," he said. "My goal is to be the best speaker I can be."

Comparing his legislative package with the relative silence in the Senate, Taylor said: "It's my style to be more strategic in matters, more visionary." He said Glendening knew in advance about all the legislative proposals, which were introduced by Taylor's committee chairmen.

Glendening says he sees Taylor as a partner, not a rival, in governing Maryland. Taylor's legislative package, Glendening said in an interview, "doesn't steal the spotlight or thunder." The governor's office and the legislature, he said, are "two equal branches, and each should have its moment in the sun."

Denis Has His Eye on D.C.

A long-established figure on the Maryland political scene may soon become more familiar to D.C. residents. Howard A. Denis, a former state senator from Montgomery County and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for lieutenant governor last year, has signed on as the staff lawyer for the House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees D.C. affairs.

Denis has a lot in common with his new boss, subcommittee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III, of Fairfax County. He's spent most of his life in the Washington suburbs, he's a Republican with moderate-to-liberal views on social issues, and he's likely to be more sympathetic to the city than many in his party's conservative wing.

"I'm just excited to be on the Hill at such a remarkable time," Denis said. "There's a window of opportunity now to do good things."

Denis, 54, served for 18 years in the Maryland Senate before joining then-U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley as her running mate in last year's race for governor. Bentley, a conservative from the Baltimore area, reached out to Denis for both geographical and philosophical balance. But Bentley failed to get the GOP nomination.

Although Denis plays down such talk, he's said to be interested in running for Congress himself if Rep. Constance A. Morella (R), of Montgomery County, should vacate her seat.

Denis and the other members of the D.C. subcommittee staff will be under the supervision of Ronald Hamm, a Hill veteran who worked on the panel during the last Congress.

Bringing Bentley on Board

Speaking of Bentley, she has been hired by Maryland as a consultant on maritime issues.

Bentley, who served five terms as a Baltimore area representative in Congress, will be paid on an hourly basis and could be paid as much as $75,000 a year, the Maryland Port Administration said last week.

As chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission from 1969 to 1975, Bentley was a relentless supporter of Maryland's maritime industry and the Port of Baltimore.

"Helen's knowledge of the maritime industry is unsurpassed," said former state transportation secretary O. James Lighthizer. "Her advice and counsel is respected by literally every port interest, so how could we not formalize a relationship to harness her energy and know-how?"

Although under federal law, she will not be allowed to lobby her former Capitol Hill colleagues during her first year out of office, Bentley, 71, will be free to consult with colleagues if they seek her advice.

"If a member {of Congress} asks me to come in to talk, I can do it," Bentley said. "I can also call an office and arrange for someone to go in and talk with them."

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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