Maryland state Sen. Victor Cushwa (D-Western Maryland) was named yesterday to a five-year term on the state Public Service Commission, an appointment with the potential to shift the balance of power in the Senate on the abortion issue.

"Victor Cushwa is an outstanding public servant known throughout Maryland for his hard work, his thoroughness and his fairness," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said in a statement. "He has been closely involved in state and local government for more than 30 years. That kind of experience will be an important addition to the Public Service Commission."

The commission, Maryland's most powerful regulatory agency, has jurisdiction over all utility companies operating in the state, as well as most common carriers engaged in public transportation of passengers and freight. It is composed of five members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The appointment, which is effective July 1, means the Williamsport Democrat will have to resign from the General Assembly seat he has held since 1977.

Cushwa was one of 16 senators who blocked an abortion-rights bill earlier this year by mounting a filibuster. Abortion-rights supporters fell just a vote shy of cloture, and a net loss of one anti-abortion senator would give their side a filibuster-proof majority.