A state lawmaker yesterday moved closer toward capturing the most powerful seat in the Maryland House of Delegates if Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. fails to win a ballot recount in his reelection bid.
Del. Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) won the endorsement of Del. Howard P. Rawlings (D-Baltimore), the only other lawmaker who has expressed interest in succeeding Taylor as speaker.
Rawlings said he has decided against running for the post, in part because Busch appears to have sewn up enough votes to win.
"Mike has been working very hard, he has a lot of Montgomery County locked up and several of my colleagues are supporting him," Rawlings said. "I believe it would be an enormous challenge to overtake his vote capacity."
Busch, 55, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, said that he hopes Taylor (D-Allegany) wins the recount but that he is prepared to take over the speaker's post if necessary.
Busch, who was elected to the House in 1986, is a longtime friend of Republican Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., with whom he has shared a summer house. But Busch enthusiastically supported Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the gubernatorial race, and he said his first allegiance is to the Democratic Party.
"I like him, but I can compete against him," Busch said of Ehrlich.
Busch opposes at least one of Ehrlich's priorities: legalizing slot machines at Maryland's racetracks. "No one has explained to me why we should help the racing industry if they won't help themselves," he said.
The potential upheaval in the House along with shifts in the upper ranks of the Senate are likely to tilt the balance of power in the Maryland General Assembly in favor of the Washington suburbs and could give the legislature a more progressive tone when Ehrlich takes power in January.
In the Senate, veteran Sen. Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil) was among a number of rural, more conservative legislators who lost. Baker, who chairs the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which handles such issues as abortion and gun laws, is likely to be replaced by Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who is among the most liberal members of the Senate.
Taylor was defeated by 71 votes by Republican LeRoy E. Myers Jr., a political neophyte. Taylor has not conceded defeat, hoping that a recount will give him enough votes to win.
But Taylor, who was elected to the House in 1974 and has been speaker for nine years, acknowledged yesterday that he is unlikely to return. "I feel my prospects are slim," he said.
Taylor, who appeared with Busch and Rawlings at an Annapolis news conference, said that the recount would be finalized by Nov. 29 and that the House's 98-member Democratic caucus would choose a speaker Dec. 2.
Both Busch and Rawlings said they would support Taylor for reelection as speaker if he wins the recount. "We're all supporting Cas on the recount," Busch said.
Busch said the purpose of yesterday's announcement was to stabilize the House, where 46 freshman members will assume seats in January.
"A lot of people would like to know when there will be a definitive answer on the speaker's race back home in Cumberland," Busch said.
Busch said he has been inundated with questions from lawmakers as his name has emerged as a likely successor to Taylor.
"The concerns range from where they will park to becoming emperor of Baltimore County," he said, chuckling. "I've promised that the current leadership will remain in place, and I will try to be fair and accessible in all issues."
Busch said the days since the election and the uncertainty surrounding Taylor's future have been less than pleasant, even if it could mean a boost for his own political fortunes.
"I'm a creation of Cas Taylor," he said. "I wouldn't be here without him. This is terrible. I feel terrible for him. At the same time, there will be a presiding officer. I hope it's him."