Rushern L. Baker III landed in Prince George's County 10 years ago on a bet with his wife. The couple had been living in the District and had wanted to buy a house.

Baker wanted to return to the county, where he lived while attending law school at Howard University. His wife, Christa Beverly, wanted to stay in the city.

"We made a deal," Baker said. "If she could find a house we could afford in D.C., we'd live there. If I found something she liked in Prince George's County, we'd live here."

Baker found the house, and since 1989, the couple has called Cheverly home.

It isn't a magical tale. But Baker (D), the chairman of the county's House delegation since last year, said he found something in Cheverly that he hadn't known since he left Massachusetts for college.

"It had everything we could ask for," said Baker, whose three children range in age from 5 to 12. "It was a small town. It was a diverse community. We wanted to expose our children to these things."

Once he got settled, it didn't take long before Baker started to feel the itch to get involved in politics. It had been his lifelong dream. He had never intended to make his career as a lawyer, which is precisely what he had been doing as the in-house counsel for a nonprofit community development corporation.

"Since I was 17, the only thing I've ever wanted to do is go into public service," Baker said.

Baker, who is 41, credited his wife for giving him the push he needed to get into politics. "All my good ideas come from her," he said.

The couple ran into a friend one weekend while they were shopping. The friend introduced them to Michael Arrington, who was running for state delegate in 1990. (Arrington is now a lobbyist in Annapolis).

Baker said his wife immediately volunteered the family to work on the campaign. Arrington was elected to the General Assembly. Through him, Baker met County Council member Ronald V. Russell (D-Mitchellville). He also met U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) and former state senator Bea Tignor, who made an unsuccessful bid for county executive in 1994.

Before he knew it, Baker was on the inside, and when then-Del. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Cheverly) decided to run for state Senate in 1994, the county's Democratic Central Committee appointed Baker to fill the vacancy. Baker ran for the seat in 1994, winning with 50 percent of the vote in the primary. He was reelected in 1998 with 84 percent of the vote.

For the past year, Baker has been chairman of the county's 21-member House delegation, earning the respect of his colleagues for his ability to negotiate and bring the often-divided group together on key issues such as school reform.

"Rushern Baker is a breath of fresh air," said fellow Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Landover). "He has been able to pull us together. He has been able to deal with all kinds of personalities. He is an excellent consensus-builder. There is not doubt in my mind that Rushern Baker is a rising star."

Baker said his colleagues have seen him mature as a politician. But they also have seen something else.

"They saw while I certainly would stand up and fight for the county, I'd negotiate and go in and get something done," he said.

Baker, who is considering running for county executive in 2002, said his vision for the county is relatively simple.

"I really want to see the county live up to its potential," he said. "I sincerely believe that the Washington metro area is the economic force for Maryland."

And Prince George's County, he believes, should be a leader in the regional economy.

CAPTION: Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D-Cheverly) in Annapolis in December. He says he negotiates and gets things done.