- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Delegate Michael E. Busch, a political veteran known for forging alliances between parties, was nominated House speaker yesterday as the legislature's longtime Democratic majority prepared to face a Republican governor for the first time in 34 years.
Mr. Busch, of Annapolis, whose election to the House's top post is virtually assured, said he would build consensus among House Democrats and Republicans as they look to make deep budget cuts and possibly restructure the state's tax system to eliminate an anticipated $1.3 billion budget shortfall.
But when the House Democratic Caucus nominated Mr. Busch, some caucus members said he would play a new role as speaker now that Maryland had a true two-party system. He would serve as leader of the "loyal opposition," said Delegate Kumar P. Barve, Gaithersburg Democrat, upon nominating Mr. Busch.
The caucus affirmed the nomination by a unanimous voice vote.
Though Mr. Busch said he would cooperate with the Republican governor, he also pledged to uphold the core Democratic values that attracted him to politics.
"I believe in the principles we stood for and the policies we passed," Mr. Busch said of the legacy left by years of Democratic domination of the State House. "We will tackle that deficit and meet these challenges while still upholding our values."
Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who began his political career alongside Mr. Busch, when they were elected delegates in 1987, said they share a personal friendship that will translate into a fruitful working relationship.
"Michael and I are friends and have built a solid foundation for a new working relationship in Annapolis," said Mr. Ehrlich, who served with Mr. Busch on the House Judiciary Committee.
In an interview after the nomination, Mr. Busch said he counted Mr. Ehrlich as a friend but that he had no misconceptions about the political struggles that await them.
"Bob and I are friends, but we both have responsibilities. There is no question where my allegiance is," he said.
Mr. Busch said he expected to clash with the new governor in areas where Democrats and Republicans traditionally don't see eye to eye. He viewed Mr. Ehrlich as softer on gun control and environmental protection, and he expected him to be more conservative when it comes to the Democrat's progressive health care agenda.
They also differ on legalizing slot-machine gambling, which Mr. Ehrlich wants to bring to horse-racing tracks to create a revenue source for the state. Mr. Busch has long opposed slots but said he would debate the issue.
"I don't want to make slots a primary issue," he said. Mr. Busch also said Mr. Ehrlich would have to initiate the legislation and rally support among Republicans, many of whom oppose gambling.
"My position as speaker of the House is to bring all these opinions together and determine what will be best for the people of Maryland," he said.
Yesterday the House Democratic Caucus also unanimously nominated Delegate Adrian Jones of Baltimore County, speaker pro tem. Mr. Busch described her as a "woman of integrity" who would help him build consensus in the legislature.
Mr. Busch succeeds Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who held the post for 9 years the longest tenure for a House speaker in Maryland since the 1700s.
Mr. Taylor's 28-year political career ended last week when a vote recount upheld his election loss to a Republican political newcomer LeRoy E. Myers Jr. He defeated Mr. Taylor by 76 votes to become a delegate from Western Maryland.
Delegate Alfred W. Redmer Jr. of Baltimore County, House minority leader, said Mr. Busch was an "excellent choice" to lead the Democrats as the legislature faces the challenges of erasing an estimated $1.3 billion budget shortfall and shaping a new relationship with a Republican executive.
Mr. Redmer, who was elected minority leader last week, said Mr. Busch has the right temperament for what promises to be a difficult job.
"When things get ugly, as they do in every legislative session, you need somebody who can remain composed, think clearly and respond appropriately," he said. "He has that kind of temperament."
Mr. Redmer also said Mr. Busch has proven himself to not be excessively partisan as chairman of the Economic Matters Committee.
"Mike typically leaves partisan politics outside the room," he said.


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